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Lives of the Provectus

 

The Chronicles of Max Gunnarsson

Book Three

 

 

Lives of The Provectus

 

 

By S.K. Benton

 

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2015 © S.K. Benton

All rights reserved

 

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Further, this book is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of physicians. The reader should regularly consult a physician in matters relating to his/her health and particularly with respect to any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention, and most definitely not try to use magic of any sort because it really does not exist in our world – as far as we know.

If you believe you have wings and can fly, please do not attempt to test that theory and jump off a building. Go directly to a psychiatrist and have a nice chat. Also, if you think there are giant insects preparing to attack Earth we suggest you build a bomb shelter and hide, never to return.

Table of Contents

 

Chapter 1 – Tangle

Chapter 2 – Savior

Chapter 3 – Welcome to the Castle

Chapter 4 – Conversion

Chapter 5 – Frozen

Chapter 6 – Harajuku

Chapter 7 – Go Home

Chapter 8 – Sushi

Chapter 9 – Setup

Chapter 10 – Move It!

Chapter 11 – Agreement

Chapter 12 – New Alliances

Chapter 13 – PAH Fun

Chapter 14 – Raid

Chapter 15 – Together

Chapter 16 – Attack!

Chapter 17 – Portals

Chapter 18 – Address

Chapter 19 – Activated

Chapter 20 – New News

Chapter 21 – Revelations

Chapter 22 – Welcome, Mr. President

Chapter 23 – Vrol Hunt

Chapter 24 – Castle Sweet Castle

Chapter 25 – Reality Lessons

Chapter 26 – Good Galactic Hunting

Chapter 27 – Blind Breakfast

Chapter 28 – Portlandia

Chapter 29 – Disrupted Vacation

Chapter 30 – Panic

Chapter 31 – Pure Genius!

Chapter 32 – Hide and Seek

Chapter 33 – Resistance

Chapter 34 – The Plan

Chapter 35 – Tag, You’re It!

Chapter 36 – Mass

Chapter 37 – Tragedy and Loss

Chapter 38 – Resolve

Chapter 39 – Vacuum

Chapter 40 – Undesired Changes

Chapter 41 – Real Estate

Epilogue

Glossary of Terms

[Preview of METATRON’S CUBE
++]

Foreword

 

Welcome to the third book in THE CHRONICLES OF MAX GUNNARSSON. Without giving away any of the plot, I felt it necessary to provide the reader with a style sheet for this, as well as the previous novels in the series.

 

Private thoughts

There are many instances where a character is thinking to him or herself, and no one else. This is denoted in italics, without the use of quotation marks:

 

Wow, he’s sooo hot

 

Electronic and telepathic communications

There is an ample amount of non-verbal or non face-to-face communications going on in the book, either by genetically facilitated telepathy, or by use of what is called a “comm” – short for communications device. Sometimes the communication is over a broadcast channel, where all with comms hear, but many other times it is between two individuals, as users can select private channels. Many (but not all) of these “comms” are magic-enabled devices, and only function telepathically for those of the enhanced genome, as well as for the Prīmulī in the story. The type of device used is usually described.

These communications are in italics, as well as quotation marks:

 

Max, I need you in my office now.”

On my way, G.”

 

Also, at times “comm” will be used as a verb

 

Jen, meet me in our quarters,” commed Max.

 

The reader will also encounter occasions where the italicized part of a two-way conversation is merely the voice of the unseen subject of what amounts to a telephone call, with the visible, audible subject’s voicing non-italicized.

 

Maria. Please, do not be alarmed. I have accessed your communications device in order to speak with you. I am a friend.”

“Who is this?” she whispered, alarmed.

 

 

Foreign Languages

Another writing style is to show that a foreign language is being spoken. This is done with brackets. In most cases the foreign language is also displayed, followed by the English translation in brackets:

 

“Bewegen Sie sich nicht, wenn Sie leben wollen [Do not move if you wish to live].”

 

However, if the foreign language uses anything but Latin script (such as Greek, Cyrillic or Japanese Hiragana), then only the translation is displayed, encapsulated in brackets.

 

“[Welcome to Tokyo, honored ones. I am to assume you are of the Lycan bloodline].”

 

Personal Console Readouts

Not common in the series, but shown on occasion, the text on a personal console, when displayed, will be in a narrow, more dramatic serif font, in italics, but without quotation marks.

 

Johnson: And you will not approach Earth?

X’than’dor: We have no interest in Earth

Johnson: Excellent. I get Earth, and I will give you Azul

X’than’dor: We shall take it anyway

 

 

Paragraph breaks

Triple pound signs ( ### ) are used in paragraph breaks to denote a substantial change in scenery or location.

 

Knowing this, I hope you enjoy this exciting final installment to THE VROL TRILOGY.

Prologue

 

The story so far:

 

29th century naval commander Max Gunnarson, PhD, has invented Mankind’s first viable faster-than-light drive and, against orders, travels to Earth, the home of his ancestors. Upon arrival he finds the ruins of an ancient society, and nearly devoid of vertebrate life – except for his grandfather, the Primulus Draagh, who surprises Max with his sudden appearance and revelation of their relationship. One of the elders of the universe, Draagh was responsible for the seeding of billions of planets with life, and is especially fond of Mankind. He also happens to be the father of Mija-El, commonly known as St. Michael the Archangel – Max’s biological father.

 

Max discovers he has the inactive DNA of an ancient subspecies of humanity – long ago deactivated – the noble lycans, created to be the protectors of Mankind. He also learns Earth was destroyed 500 years earlier by a virulent insectoid species called the Vrol, whose purpose is to wipe out life on their target worlds, and are taking a slow path to his own world, Azul, to finish off humanity.

 

Upon the arrival of the stunning Lt. Jennie Escalante, initially sent to capture Max, Draagh takes the two military officers to a restored Earth of the 43rd century, where magic and their lycan skills function perfectly (but technology doesn’t). There they live in the castle of lycan King Krynos. As an added bonus, Max finds he can also manipulate magic. Training with their new skills, in order to return to their homeworld and defend it from the Vrol, Max and Jennie learn to work together as a team, eventually defeating invading vampire forces, then falling in love and adopting a local, lycan orphan girl, Liliana, in the process.

 

But things go wrong when Max uses Draagh’s staff for an unauthorized trip to 29th century Earth. Draagh keeps his “ghanlo”, a non-sentient soul companion/organic supercomputer, in his staff, and it never leaves its master’s vicinity. 29th century Earth is way too far, so the staff/ghanlo pitches Max off to a remote world – an alternate timeline Hollywood, where both magic and technology partially work, and normals, vampire, lycans and nekos live together, with Vrol occupying the spot of apex predators.

 

Jennie and Draagh travel to the four corners of the universe searching for Max, and after six months decide to check up on Jennie’s former commanding officer, the venerable Rear Admiral Luigi Bagatelle. Arriving at Bagatelle’s apartment, which is no less than a prison, as he had been framed for crimes he did not commit, the rear admiral is surprised by Jennie and Draagh’s unannounced appearance, and even more so at meeting Liliana. Bagatelle then reveals to Jennie why he had kept her under his command for so many years – she was his long-lost biological sister, adopted by an elderly couple when she was a baby and their parents died while he was out of a deep-space mission during his academy days. He agrees to accompany them to the 43rd century in their continued search for Max.

 

Max wakes up in a cesspool of waste off Sunset Blvd, and makes his way north, detecting the scent of a female lycan. Reaching the girl, named Jessica, she offers to take him to their clan home, the nightclub Seven Sins (and former home of the famous Troubador), where he performs cooking and cleaning duties for the club owner and clan leader, Dons, while keeping his identity a secret. Max also meets local musician, vampire Lennie. In this fractured, alternate timeline, vampires are groovy, mellow and extremely nice pale people – not the rotting, evil sociopaths that exist on other worlds. Max doesn’t realize the moon phase, and turns during a party – surprising everyone, as lycans don’t turn to werewolves on the full moon in this world – they become mellow, just like the vampires.

After encountering some vicious lycans out near Magic Mountain, and discovering some new lycan skills (his sapient, near-werewolf Assassin Form), Max makes it back to Seven Sins and explains who he really is to everyone. He admits he’ll soon have to leave, as he needs to find a real mage for help to get home.

 

Draagh has an idea for finding Max, but they need Max’s father to make it happen. Calling Gabriel, Michael’s estranged brother, Draagh supplicates with the archangel to find Michael, to which Gabriel relents (having been the one who stranded Michael powerless on a world for 100 years over a bet), taking everyone to an alternate timeline – one where animal flesh is not digestible, and everyone lives as pot-smoking, vegan hippies. Locating Michael, the currently powerless archangel, Draagh asks him to help find his own son, but Michael refuses, liking his new home. Draagh introduces Max’s adopted daughter, Liliana, who, upon finding Michael doesn’t want to help beats the crap out of him with some powerful magic (the small lycan having been previously identified as possessing mage genetics). Michael quickly changes his mind and accompanies the team to Earth’s 43rd century. Michael goes through a slow process of training, meant to naturally restore his archangel powers, and in the meantime becomes close with Liliana.

 

Using Michael (and his DNA) to replicate Max’s attempt at using Draagh’s staff, they eventually locate the young commander, and he and his new friend Jessica are brought back to the 43 century, now joined with Bagatelle, as well as his uncle and biological father. Together they embark on a mission to protect Azul, finding that former Security Council member Len Johnson has taken over the federal government by murdering the President and installing himself as “Chairman”, enacting emergency powers in order to peacefully receive Mankind’s first alien visitors – the Artusians. Unfortunately, Johnson knows exactly who these Artusians are – they’re the Vrol – the same species that wiped out all life on Earth. Johnson has struck a cold bargain with the insects, making all defensive forces enter into stand-down status and facilitate the Vrol’s unimpeded conquest of Azul, in exchange for the aliens’ promise to never return to Earth. Johnson has been using Max’s technology to prepare a number of arks for the return trip to Earth right before the Vrol arrive, where the Chairman will be planetary dictator, accompanied by his closest allies, exclusively inactive vampires – his same enhanced subspecies – as well as thousands of unwitting “slaves” (genetic normals) who will provide his labor force, traveling to Earth under the mistaken idea that they will have a new start and a better life.

 

Max and Jennie go to rescue his mother, Clarisa Gunnarsson, with the intention of bringing her to the 43rd century, only to find Max’s former nanny, Janice Wong, alone at his ancestral home in Cordoba, Nueva Argentina. Max discovers Clarisa has been taken away by the military, so he finds and rescues her, bringing her along with Janice Wong to the 43rd century. He also learns Wong is an activated lycan, and was placed in her position as nanny by Michael more than a quarter century prior. Clarisa immediately reacts to the magic-enabled environment of the 43rd century, and within days is a rejuvenated lycan female, with the appearance of a 28-year-old woman.

 

Max, his father and his uncle take Bagatelle along and interview numerous military officers, activating all whom carry the recessive lycan gene, and prepare to restore constitutional rule to their beloved homeworld. Assembling the fleet in secret, while eliminating some uncooperative senior commanders, Max, Bagatelle, Jennie and their allies prepare to conquer Azul and her three moons.

 

However, Chairman Len Johnson has turned up missing without a trace, no one knowing where he went or why.

 

Now, the story continues….

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1 – Tangled

 

Sir, we’ll reach our destination in seven hours,” howled a metallic voice over the ship’s comm.

 

Chairman Len Johnson, despot of Azul System, groggily lifted his head from his pillow; his pale, angular face carrying a look of annoyance, framed by thin, shock-white hair.

His latest attempt at sleep had only lasted a few hours, but during that time he experienced a horrific nightmare. Somehow, his subconscious was telling him what his conscious mind had been rejecting for over a year – that his son was dead. This particular dream had Max Gunnarsson stabbing the young man in the back with a large blade; not even close to the truth. But like all dreams, this one quickly faded away into darkness as he sat up on the edge of his bed. Waving the captain off, the officer shut the cabin door, enabling Johnson to dress and prepare for the final few hours he had before confronting an unknown species – the Vrol – in an attempt to delay their arrival to his home world, Azul.

Johnson couldn’t really be blamed for the arrival of the Vrol, as the species had centuries-prior acquired coordinates to his home world from an errant Exodus barge. However, he was more than complicit in allowing them to approach Azul without any form of resistance. That fact alone made him a traitor to the human race, even though he could have cared less.

He simply saw himself as the leader of a renewed Earth – the home world of his ancestors, where his progenitors had been virtually wiped out by these same aliens he was en route to approach.

Johnson was an intelligent man – to a certain extent. Like most politicians, he made himself successful by force of will and a blatant use of leverage whenever necessary. Also, like many politicians, he carried the recessive vampire gene. This alone gave him the borderline sociopathic tendencies that facilitated his rise to power. Of course he was not without feelings. He felt love for his son – the son he had sent off to Earth. The son he had commanded to sabotage the mission to capture Max Gunnarsson and his side space hook drive machinery. This sabotage resulted in the deaths of dozens of pilots and techs, but Johnson gave them nary a thought. Part of the sociopathic mindset was an amazing ability to pick and choose that for which to be remorseful – he missed his son, but actually delighted in the unnecessary deaths of the poor, unfortunate innocents.

Putting on his day garments, he departed from his cabin and purposefully entered into the small bridge area of his ship. It was obvious that his crew feared him, as he had the ability to snuff out a human life with something as simple as a call to an aide. He had done it before, and there was no indication that he was about to put a stop to that sort of behavior.

“How long until we are in range of the fleet?”

Johnson didn’t ask questions; he demanded answers.

“Four hours, sir,” responded the junior officer seated at the main navigational panel.

“Very well. Inform me before we are to drop out of side space and start scanning. I am thinking it may be a better idea to come in behind them and catch up.”

“Sir,” the captain interjected, “while we have a basic idea on their estimated time of arrival at Azul System, we are unaware of their actual propulsion technology and capabilities. However, it is a very logical approach you suggest. If they outpace our fusion-ion drives we can simply rift into side space again and go up ahead of them.”

Johnson glared at the ship’s captain, causing the military officer to experience some level of discomfort. “I did not suggest anything, Captain. I was telling you what to do… in a nice manner.”

The captain nodded his head and moved to the pilot, assisting with navigational computer data input, while attempting to terminate his conversation with the planetary dictator.

 

He’s a maniac. I’ll be amazed if we get out of this alive.

 

Johnson sat by himself in the galley, eating some roasted jraxon and asparagus, and enjoying a glass of red wine. None of the crew dared interrupt him, as he appeared to be preoccupied with his personal console. In fact, they didn’t even know why they were approaching the alien fleet. Worse yet, they believed they were meeting with the Artusians, a race of angelic visitors, their identities completely concocted by Johnson in order to mask the arrival of the most dangerous, vicious and ruthless species in the Milky Way Galaxy. He had struck a cold bargain with the insectoid race, giving them Azul in exchange for no further attacks on Earth.

He believed it was he who was using the Vrol, and not the other way around.

 

As Johnson sat alone with his meal and personal console, Jennard Robinson, the ship’s captain, had a hushed conversation with his second in command, Lieutenant Miguel Hernandez.

“Miggy, tell me – honestly. How do you feel about this mission? This is between us, and not for his ears,” he murmured to his junior officer.

“Sir, I’m personally excited to meet the Artusians, but something doesn’t smell right. There’s way too much secrecy. But then again, Chairman Johnson has his reasons for the things he does, right?”

Robinson merely looked at his subordinate and nodded, feeling completely lost. He was in charge of his ship, but he wasn’t in control. So, if something went wrong he would receive the blame, but if something turned out amazing it was of course Chairman Johnson who would be displayed on all media sources system-wide. The captain wasn’t against someone getting credit for making amazing discoveries, as being in the military was pretty much a thankless job, but he wasn’t crazy about narcissistic politicians using him – and at that moment he was feeling pretty used.

“We would like to believe that, son. Anyway, let’s track properly and not drop out of side space too soon.”

Neither of the two military officers, both genetic normals, had any idea that Johnson was preparing a fleet to return to Old Earth. Their mission was to get Johnson to the Artusian Fleet. The majority of people invited by Johnson to return to Old Earth were either carrying the recessive vampire gene (and were naturally attracted to each other), or were extremely subservient normals who would pose no threat to Johnson’s power structure. After all, he would need reliable, obedient slave labor when they arrived.

At the culmination of four hours the crew started preparations to drop out of side space, well behind the alien fleet. Not knowing what to expect, they were all relatively excited to see these supposed angelic, superior beings who were on their way to help usher Azul System to a new level of consciousness. No one ever took into account that the arriving visitors were flying at velocities significantly slower than light speed.

Taking no chances, Robinson programmed the ship to drop into regular space behind the fleet when they were 2.3 million miles away. A short while later, Johnson arrived from the galley, wearing a concerned expression.

“Are you doing as requested, and coming in behind the fleet?” he asked while carrying an ominous tone to his voice.

“That is correct, sir. We shall exit side space behind what would appear to be their capitol ship. I believe we should have plenty of room for maneuvering when we’re there, which should happen in… ten, nine, eight, seven …”

He didn’t need to keep counting, as everyone watched the command panel and listened as the hook drive retracted, effectively moving them from side space to the normal universe.

Opening the main display view screen, which had been shut during their trip, no one expected to see anything but black space and distant stars. Instead, they found themselves in the middle of what appeared to be a vagabond fleet of tens of thousands of various craft, nearly every one being unique in configuration, and most not even resembling any known form of transport. Robinson acted quickly, taking the pilot’s place and igniting the fusion-ion drives. The fleet was going slightly faster than the human craft’s velocity, so he guided the ship to a large, open area where they wouldn’t suffer any damage.

“What is this? It’s enormous – the head of the fleet is nearly a thousand K ahead of us, and there are still ships trailing. How many ships are there? And what the hell are they? They’re so…dark,” muttered Robinson, as he looked over to the Chairman with a cautious glance and a chill running down his spine.

“Bring us to the largest craft. That is where X’than’dor will be. I must awaken him so we may speak.”

“Who is this X’than’dor, sir? Is he the Artusian leader?” asked Lieutenant Hernandez.

“In a manner of speaking, but I find your questions to be annoying, Lieutenant. Captain, take us to the lead ship – the largest one. Now. Notify me once you have identified this vessel.”

Hernandez showed Robinson a concerned and guarded expression as he looked towards the view screen. Robinson then continued to expertly guide the craft; the ship’s fusion-ion drives easily outpacing the erratically scattered alien ships. As soon as Johnson was out of earshot, Hernandez leaned down and spoke into his captain’s ear.

“Sir, I don’t feel very good about this. Everything we have been shown has been beautiful lights, gleaming vessels and angelic aliens. This looks like the complete opposite. It’s a bunch of mierda in my opinion.”

“I agree, but it’s not like we had a lot of choice in the matter. Johnson gets what he wants. Just keep an eye out for the largest vessel. When we see it, we notify him and he can deal with them.”

“Aye aye, sir.”

Neither of the officers, nor the three enlisted personnel onboard (who had remained out of sight, in the engine room and kitchen, during the voyage) could see into Johnson’s quarters, where he was frantically typing into his personal console, all in a vain attempt to awaken X’than’dor.

 

Damned alien scum. Why can’t they be normal like us?

 

Johnson nearly asked his question out loud, totally frustrated, and seriously wondered why the Vrol weren’t more like humans. What he didn’t know, or even realize, was that they were created to exterminate humans, as well as a variety of other species, and had as much in common with Mankind as the Ebola virus had with a bunny rabbit. He was in over his head, but his sociopathic arrogance overrode all precautionary common sense he might have otherwise possessed.

Punching commands into his communications interface – which was the equivalent of pounding on someone’s door to wake them up – he elicited no response from the Vrol. By this point he figured all he could do would be to attempt to dock with the lead ship and go from there.

Robinson lithely navigated in between dozens of craft, some not even resembling space ships, and looking more like asteroids. He sent out a probe to perform an analysis on one of the craft, and it had returned about 25% of its data back before it suddenly blinked off. Sending out another probe in order to find what happened to the first one he received his answer; a high-powered energy pulse destroyed the second one. Someone didn't want to be scanned, so Robinson had to immediately consider himself in a hostile situation.

Hernandez stared at the view screen with a look of utter horror on his face. Then, being sent by his captain to fetch Johnson, the junior officer did something he never imagined himself doing in his entire life – he went around behind Johnson’s quarters, entering into a small storage space. But this space had a vent, looking into Johnson’s room.

Quietly stepping up onto a box, Hernandez looked through the vent grate with his magnalens, a magnifying contact lens, which he nearly always wore, attempting to see what was on the dictator’s personal console. Miguel grew up a mischievous child, and the military academy was probably the only thing that kept him from running afoul of the law. He was no stranger to spying on people – he was caught and thrown out of the public university where he attended for setting up surveillance cameras in a women’s locker room. However, he was let back in the following year, mostly due to his outstanding grades and the sincere letter of apology he submitted via his legal council.

Zooming in carefully, he trained his view directly onto Johnson’s console, noting that the leader was typing into what appeared to be some sort of custom chatcom interface. He saw the latest of Johnson’s text communications on the screen, and what he saw nearly gave him a heart attack;

 

Johnson: And you will not approach Earth?

X’than’dor: We have no interest in Earth

Johnson: Excellent. I get Earth, and I will give you Azul

X’than’dor: We shall take it anyway

Johnson: That is fine. My agent reached Earth. Planet is intact

X’than’dor: Explain what means word “fine”. It is logic. It is reality. Earth died. We continue. Azul dies. We continue.

 

Johnson: Are you there? I have come to meet with you. Wake up. Which ship are you in?

resend:

resend:

resend:

 

Miguel performed a predefined series of blinks, causing his lens to silently snap a string of images of Johnson’s screen and send them to his own personal console so he could show them to his captain. Slowly and carefully exiting out of the storage closet, he then quickly bolted past Johnson’s door and went straight to the small bridge area, handing his personal console to Robinson and showing the captain one of the images he had just taken.

“Miggy, what’s this?”

“Sir, it should be obvious. It’s an image of his screen. We’re going to die. Earth is dead and these… things are on their way to Azul to do the same.”

“My, my, how unfortunate that you saw that,” said Johnson, with a sinister growl behind the officers, stinger pistol trained on their position. “I was really hoping that you would have been good little nobodies and had done your jobs as commanded by your sovereign.”

“Sovereign? Our what?” demanded Robinson. “We have a Constitution that doesn’t allow for kings or leaders for life, and while I fully supported the government’s temporary reorganization due to extraordinary circumstances, I kind of have a feeling that really wasn’t your intention now, was it?”

“Oh, I am your…. how shall I say it, for the lack of a better term, your king? Yes, I believe I am. And this species surrounding us is going to cleanse the filth that has permeated our society. I am leading the salvation of Mankind – a modern-day Noah, if you will, and you two are fortunate enough to witness a part of it. That being said, I will need for you two to cooperate and get me back to Azul once I have had my little meeting. If things go well I will even provide a space on the New Exodus fleet for you and your immediate families. If things go well… and you behave.”

Johnson was lying through his teeth, and the two officers knew it, but all they could do was go along with him and hope for the best. What Johnson didn’t notice when he was talking was that Miguel had sent his images of Johnson’s screen to various contacts. However, it would be a few weeks before they arrived at anyone’s personal console, having been sent through normal channels, and the transmission’s point of origin so many light years away from Azul System.

“So, do I have your cooperation or not, gentlemen? Oh, and I’ll take that personal console, Lieutenant.”

Jennard Robinson didn’t become a captain by making rash decisions. In fact, it was quite the opposite, and was precisely the reason Johnson had selected him to lead the craft to rendezvous with the Vrol, but Johnson hadn’t taken junior officers into consideration, so he had no idea that Hernandez wasn’t anything like his commanding officer. Miguel knew that they were standing on the bridge with the most horrific traitor to the human race in known history; Johnson made Mao Tse Tung look like a camp counselor.

The junior officer started to formulate a plan to relieve Johnson of his stinger. Then, once he had it, he would quickly assassinate the dictator and hope that his transmitted imagery would exonerate him from any crime, and perhaps even make him a hero of Mankind.

Both of the officers nodded their heads, with Miguel handing Johnson his device, and were about to go about their business, when their craft was violently jolted, knocking all three to the deck. Yells erupted from the back of the craft where the enlisted personnel were stationed, and a terrible, screeching sound ripped through their ears. Jumping up to his feet, Hernandez scanned around via the view screen, seeing that their ship had been locked onto with what appeared to be harpoons and cables. It was a matter of moments before their ship was sided up with a fairly large and ungainly-looking craft. Upon closer inspection, both of the officers noticed that the outer skin of the alien craft seemed to undulate, as if it were made of massive, living cells.

Johnson sat on the deck, paralyzed with fear. It was the first time either officer had seen anything less than a sneering look of self-confidence on his face, and despite their obviously dangerous situation, they both found it rather pleasant to view. But their enjoyment didn’t last long. A large explosion rocked the craft, opening up a hole in the bulkhead, through which two creatures entered, each roughly two meters long and resembling millipedes, but having larger heads and deadly-looking quad-mandibles. Taking advantage of the distraction, Hernandez ran up to the fear-immobilized Johnson, grabbing the despot’s weapon and training it on his face. However, he was just a little too late – for himself and for humanity.

He was the first to find out what the creatures’ mandibles were for.

Robinson watched in horror as a lightning-fast alien skittered up and enveloped the lieutenant’s body with its dozens of legs, and then slammed its razor-sharp mandibles down onto Hernandez’s head and chewed it off his body, while a second creature entwined with the first and covered the gaping neck hole where the lieutenant’s head was with its own mouth, its body obscenely expanding and contracting as the beast sucked all of the internal organs and life fluids out of the unfortunate man’s torso, leaving it looking partially desiccated.

The last thing the captain saw was Johnson being carried off, screaming, by what appeared to be armored, bipedal praying mantises, uselessly kicking his legs in protest.

 

 

Chapter 2 – Savior

 

“Max, she needs to study more and you know it.”

 

Jennie Gunnarsson was becoming concerned with the fact that their daughter, Liliana, was spending an inordinate amount of time on recon missions and at the base and not in the classroom, where as a child she belonged.

“Yeah love, I know. But things are so chaotic right now. We just need to get everything in order. Plus you know she made friends with these kids, and we’re bringing them all back with us.”

Max looked out over the Tongass Narrows, a seawater channel in Southeast Alaska that separated the islands of Revillagigedo and Gravina, where only the disintegrated remains of an ancient airport littered the landscape of the latter. He and his wife Jennie had come along with their daughter in order to coordinate the removal of the Saxman Haidas – some going to Vera, and others, mostly children, going to the Rhönen Dominion, where they would live in safety until Azul had been secured and the Vrol had hopefully been eliminated from the galaxy.

Liliana was skipping small rocks on the water while she watched bald eagles soar over the channel, searching for food. The youngling was obviously impatient and wanting to visit with her friends in the Haida village, so looking over to her parents she asked, “Um, are we going to go there anytime soon? You do remember that they always provide excellent barbeque.”

Jennie giggled softly as she stood up, grabbing Max’s hand and pulling him with her. Seeing this as a sign they were finally going to the village, Liliana ran over with a big smile and stood next to her parents. In a matter of nanoseconds the three were standing in front of the great totem pole from which Max had extracted his ghanlo mere days before. Liliana gave both her parents a hug, and then darted off to the clan house where her friends were waiting.

“Jen, you realize that this is just a coordination meeting, right? We aren’t taking anybody back with us yet.”

“I know, sweetie. It’s just that I really want to get some of these people up and trained. The earlier we start, the better chance of survival they will have. It’s only fair, you know.”

Jennie was truly concerned for the Haidas, as she had grown quite fond of the displaced lycan clan. The PAH (Post-Apocalyptic Hollywood) timeline wasn’t their native world, and they were eager to move on and assist wherever they could. She wanted to see them happy and safe, and while they were quite secure in their current locale, they were fairly unhappy – they needed a change of scenery, much as Jennie did over a year prior. The couple walked up to the clan house, where Jake Williams greeted them, as was his usual habit.

“Greetings Ms. Jennie and He-who-flies-in-”

“Jake… it’s Max. Please, just call me Max, ok? Not Soaring Eagle Ass Kicker or whatever other name you come up with.”

“My apologies, Max. It is just that you showed a great interest in our traditional names when we first met, so I thought perhaps you would like one.”

The elder looked a bit disappointed that Max was unwilling to be addressed in such a manner, but Max put the old man at ease.

“Jake, I really do appreciate it, seriously. But like my grandfather Draagh says, it’s much more efficient, especially in times of battle, to keep your names short and sweet.” Max exaggerated a bit in recounting his grandfather’s distaste for long names – it wasn’t that they would interfere in battle; it was actually that long words interfered with mealtimes, and Draagh loved shortcuts. And mealtimes.

“So Jake,” started Jennie, “we just wanted to touch bases with you and get the ball rolling. We have some ideas about where the kids will go, where the young adults will go and where we will take the tribal elders.”

“Shall we elders be taken to a location where we shall not participate in fighting this evil alien enemy? I know we are older, but we can provide many support services, young lady.”

Jake appeared to be a bit dismayed with Jennie’s suggestion of separating the elders from the rest of the tribe, but Max jumped in and salvaged the intent of the operation.

“Jake, no, it’s not that at all. Your wisdom will be valuable. It’s a matter of where we have space and what facilities exist. We think that you, that is, the elders, would be better off in the Rhönen Dominion where we are taking the children. The younger adults who’ll train with weapons will need to go to our base on Vera.”

Jennie smiled and nodded her head in agreement with Max, knowing that her introduction to the subject had been sort of open-ended, and sounded like she was going to send the elders off to somewhere completely different than everyone else.

“Very well, Max. I believe that this location should be sufficient. We only want to be of service, and never a burden. If you would, please come inside and tell us more about this Rhönen.” Jake Williams then opened the door to the clan house and the three entered and greeted the other tribal elders, along with a few of the younger clan members.

Max started going over Krynos’ kingdom in detail, while everyone enjoyed a magnificent barbeque lunch, just as Liliana had predicted.

 

Approximately two hours passed, with Max and Jennie having exchanged sufficient information with the tribe and managing to schedule a preliminary training for young adults, which would occur on Vera. The children would then be brought over, but there was still work to be done. The castle was starting to fill up with all of the new arrivals, such as the newly turned local families that promised to fight for Azul. Max needed to work with his father and uncle to build new, temporary lodging facilities for the children, all of whom he was almost certain his daughter would visit on a daily basis. The little lycan girl had much more in common with the Haida children than she did with normals, or all of the adults with whom she surrounded herself.

 

After calling out to Liliana via their comms (and waiting the customary fifteen minutes for her to show up – muddy, with twigs and moss sticking out of her glossy black hair), the Gunnarssons shook hands, waved goodbye to their new friends and allies and then disappeared.

 

Jennie and Liliana both believed they were going directly to the castle, but instead found themselves in Max’s new apartment in the Hub. It was more modern than anything in the castle, and had furnishings similar to something one would have on 29th century Azul.

“Papi, why are we in the Hub? Can you not easily bypass it?”

“Yeah sweetie, why here? What’s up?” asked Max’s beautiful dega wife.

Max sighed and sat down on a plush, orange-colored couch. Then, putting his head in his hands he told them his plan.

“Jennie, remember how I promised you we would do whatever we could for that Josh Mannheim fellow?”

“Um, yeah, I do. Why? What’s up, Max?”

“He’s dying. His heart’s about done, and he only has days to live. Gabriel did some recon, and he’s in the military hospital in New Sydney.”

“Oh no. Oh my god, and I haven’t even let Becky know I’m alive and I… sharga.”

Jennie felt guilty for not having contacted her former roommate and best friend ever since she left on the Old Earth mission over a year before. She had done so for Becky’s safety, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt.

"I spoke to Pops and we need to bring them in. Now, if they refuse I'm good enough with temporary mind wipes to --"

“No, love,” interrupted Jennie, as she picked little pieces of forest out of Liliana’s hair, “they won’t refuse. I know them. They’re smart and they know what’s happened. They’ll come along. But can Draagh cure Josh? Is it a for-sure thing?”

“I don’t know, but I trust him with this sort of thing more than anyone else in the galaxy.”

Jennie plopped down onto the couch next to Max and rested her head on his chest. Closing her eyes, she dreaded the thought of Becky’s response to her roommate who had basically abandoned her months before.

“Mami, I believe in Grandfather. Do you not?” asked Liliana.

“Yes, yes I do, honey. You know, you are such an amazing little girl. Come over here and snuggle with us,” said Jennie, as she opened her arms out wide. Liliana sauntered over and gently climbed onto the couch in between her adoptive parents, and the three took a timeless little nap before heading on to Azul.

 

###

 

The Gunnarssons slipped into Josh Mannheim’s room in the New Sydney military hospital. Initially, they were hidden from view by an invisibility cantus, keeping them from tripping any alarms or startling the occupants of the room, but to their dismay no one was there.

“Oh crap, the bed’s gone. That means he’s been taken somewhere,” exclaimed Max, obviously concerned.

“Sweetie, someone’s coming. It smells like….Becky. Oh wow, I never really smelled her before, but I can tell it’s her. This is bizarre.”

 

Everyone on the comms, right now. We don’t want to give the poor girl a heart attack,” commanded Max. “Jennie, I’m going to make you visible once she’s in the room. I’m also going to create a sound shield and run a recursive loop of some footage on the surveillance cams.”

 

Becky Branson entered the room, wearing a tired, preoccupied face. She had apparently left a personal item in the quarters, and once she picked it up and turned around she became alarmed – the door was shut, but she hadn’t shut it when she entered the room. Then, as if by magic (which it was), she was staring at an extremely healthy looking Jennie Escalante, albeit with longer hair and a bit more tan to her complexion.

“Jennie!” she gasped, not knowing what else to say while nearly falling down. Jennie ran over to her best friend and helped her to sit in a chair.

“Becky, I promise I will explain everything to you, but first I have to know – where is Josh? We came to get you guys. We may be able to cure him.”

"Jennie - the feds came and questioned us. They actually hurt Josh. They were looking for you, and now you show up out of nowhere and --"

“Becky, stop. Where is Josh? Tell me now!”

“You said we – who are you talking about?”

Max figured that the woman wouldn’t answer any questions until she got her own answered, so he made himself and Liliana visible, startling the woman even more.

“Who are you? And… where did you come from?” she hesitated.

“My name is… unimportant. Do you want your boyfriend to live?” demanded Max, behaving more like his uncle Gabriel, as he needed this information immediately.

“My husband. We… were… married a while back.”

“Congratulations… now, where is he?”

Jennie felt a rush of electricity course through her body, caused by Max’s monotone, down-to-business mannerism.

“Papi, perhaps the nice lady needs someone to be kind to her,” said the newly visible Liliana, as she approached Becky and began to gently stroke the woman’s forearm. While Max and Jennie watched, they could barely detect a beautiful, blue glow around Becky’s arm, as the young girl manipulated magic particles into a soothing stream that acted as a natural sedative. The little lycan/mage was putting her nascent power of suggestion to good use, and it was an amazing sight to see.

“Hello. My name is Liliana. I know you are Becky and a very good friend of Jennie’s. We want to help Mr. Josh, so please tell us where we can find him, ok? Then we will all go have a nice dinner together.”

Liliana was so smooth and sweet that Becky almost seemed hypnotized. She nodded her head slowly, and taking Liliana’s free hand into hers, she said, “He’s in OR-3578. The doctors are going to attempt some radical surgery, but I think it is more of an experi… hey, where did the man go to?”

Max had slipped out as soon as he heard the room number. It was in the same hospital wing, and he was immediately by Josh’s side. Luckily, he arrived before any of the barbaric procedure had been performed. Looking over at the fire alarm, Max blinked and caused it to activate, which in turn forced the doctors to evacuate the operating room.

 

Fire alarm? Good diversion, babe.”

Got him. Stay there. I’m taking him to the Hub and then I’ll be back for you. Lili, please make an invisibility cantus like I showed you, ok?

I already have done so, Papi. Please hurry.”

 

Transporting the completely sedated Josh was easy. Max slipped to the Hub, where he had a room prepared. The Hub was an excellent place to perform the surgery, being a timeless realm, and Josh would basically be in a moving state of suspended animation. Left alone, his state would not worsen nor improve while there.

Draagh, I have him. Are you ready?” asked Max over the comm.

“We are already here, my boy,” stated the old mage, who was standing in the makeshift operating room along with Michael and Gabriel – Max’s father and uncle, respectively.

“Cool. Ok, I’m going back for the girls. See y’all in a sec.”

Max slipped out and into the hospital room. Liliana’s cantus was completely effective (and quite impressive), so it was easy to gather them all together. But first, he wanted to give Becky the chance to grab anything from her home.

“Becky, we’ll explain as we go, but you can’t stay here. We’ll return after a while, but it’s totally dangerous right now. So, before we go, is there anything you’d like to get from your home?”

“Where did you go? Who are you?” she asked, nearly delirious from confusion.

“Baby, can’t you just conjure anything she needs, like supplies and stuff? She’s not taking this well. I know her like a book. She won’t shut up.”

Baby? Huh? Jen, are you with this guy? I mean, he’s hot, but where’s Ryder?”

“Dead. I’ll explain later. Max, get us out of here.”

“You got it, amorcita.”

 

Becky Branson-Mannheim found herself in am exceptionally-bright, but normal-looking apartment, aside from the fact that it lacked an outside view or windows of any sort. She looked at the young man and the little girl who were with her best friend, trying to piece things from her last few moments together. Before she could say anything, Draagh came into the room, wearing long, flowing white robes, which in itself caused Becky to gasp slightly. Even in robes he was impressive, with his long, gray hair and thick mustache braided into his beard – not a common sight on Azul or any of the moons.

“Hello! You must be the female companion of this fine young man. I am Draagh, and it is my pleasure to make your acquaintance,” said the old mage, as he gently put his hand forward.

Taking his hand and shaking it lightly, Becky looked around and blurted out, “Where are we? Is this the hospital? Jennie, where were you? Who’s this little girl? Who’s the hot guy? Who’s the old guy?”

Before Becky could ask another question, Josh walked into the room, looking more fit than he had in months.

“Heya love of my life. I think this fellow cured me.”

“Oh yes I did, yes I did, indeed. You are now quite cured; you are welcome,” added Draagh, with a comical wiggle of his brow.

Becky ran into her husband’s arms and started to sob, holding him tight. After a few moments, Jennie gently led the two over to a plush, orange couch and prompted them to sit down. Once the woman had calmed down, and Jennie had her attention, she began explaining things.

“Becks, I went on a mission to capture a missing military figure. The guy who invented the SSCC technology, Max Gunnarsson.”

“He’s the bastard who turned Josh down for that division. I’d love to get all up in his face…and … uh-oh,” she said as she slowly turned with an awkward expression and looked at Max, “you’re… Gunnarsson, aren’t you?”

Max found himself in the very uncomfortable position of having to admit to being that very same bastard.

“Um yeah, that’s me. Hello. And contrary to popular belief, I do not tear up plush unicorn dolls or steal candy from little children. That’s just vicious.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. Where are we?”

Becks, we are someplace outside space and time, and it would take a long time to explain, but I think Josh has been cured, am I right? Like, we can leave now and go to Krynos’ castle?” asked Jennie as she turned to Draagh for an answer.

“Yes my dear. This nice young man is quite cured, and we can now go eat a proper dinner,” responded Draagh.

“Pops, where are Michael and Gabriel?” asked Max.

“They went directly back to Vera, my boy. They are quite busy these days, and are hell-bent on victory. I believe that this whole situation has brought our family much closer together.”

“I’d like to think so, yes,” said Max.

“Jennie, so you are with Max Gunnarsson? And how did Ryder die? His father runs the entire system now. You could have been rich!”

Becky was always one to ask many, many questions and this day was no different, but Jennie always had a way of putting things into perspective.

“I’m married to Max. Ryder was a tool, so I killed him, and now we’re going to where Max and I live. Oh, and this is our daughter, Liliana.”

“Huh?” they both squelched simultaneously.

Liliana curtseyed, as she usually always did when making a proper introduction of herself.

“Greetings best friend of my mother… and her epidermically-challenged mate. I am Liliana Gunnarsson, lycan, mage and adopted daughter of Max and Jennie Gunnarsson. I do hope that we can become very good friends. And you can help me feed my pets on occasion, which is quite fun.”

“Oh my god, you are so adorable! Jennie, you adopted? And you got married. Wow. To the biggest traitor Mankind has ever known, even! And what’s a lyco, and a… huh?”

“Baby, Commander Gunnarsson is no traitor. You know all that Johnson stuff is a bunch of crap,” added Josh while looking at Max appreciatively, and then pulling his wife up from the couch.

“Ok, I can buy into that. So, tell me, Liliana, what kind of pets do you have?” asked Becky, apparently having forgotten her question regarding Liliana’s claim of subspecies and skills.

“Oh they are so wonderful. Hermes is my favorite. They are genetically-modified, ultra-intelligent, fresh water great white sharks that live in the moat and guard our castle.”

“Wow, for reals? And you live in a castle?” asked Becky.

“Yes we do, Bestie, and so shall you, at least for a while. Now let’s go. It’s dinnertime.”

 

“Sharks. This is gonna be fun,” mused Josh, as Draagh tamped his staff onto the floor

Chapter 3 – Welcome to the Castle

 

“Well, here we are,” said Jennie, as Becky and Josh stood outside the castle’s main gate, their jaws agape in awe.

“This is like a holo-game, but real. Wow, so where are we, and how the hell did we get here?” asked Josh.

“I brought us here via what is called a four-dimensional slip, my good friends. We have travelled through space and time, and are currently on what you call Old-Earth, but in the future – the 43rd century, to be precise. This is the castle of my very good friend Krynos, the king of all you survey. Well, right around here. He is not king of Azul, and certainly not of Vera, but here… yes, he is king.”

Jennie gave Draagh a sharp look, hoping he hadn’t been sneaking off to get loaded, as he usually did when there wasn’t much going on.

“43rd century. Like, how is that possible?” asked Becky.

“Time travel, babe. Now, everyone we ever knew is dead. Isn’t that right?” Josh was willing to accept their place in space/time, but didn’t quite understand the mechanics of it.

“No, no, Josh. Time is more like a bicycle wheel – a hub – that’s where we were, and then there are the spokes – those are the timelines, and they all run concurrently,” said Max.

“Oh, so what you mean to say is everyone back home is still alive? And dinosaurs still roam the earth, just in a different timeline?” asked Josh.

 

I told you he was smart,” thought Max, over the comm.

 

“Yes, Josh, that’s basically how it is. Now let’s get inside. We’ll brief you on everything that’s happened, what we’re doing and how you can help. I hope you like elk. It’s on the menu tonight.”

“Oh, we’re both vegans now, so we’ll be fine with a simple salad,” said Becky, which caused everyone else to burst out in laughter, making the newly-arrived couple look slightly hurt.

 

Oh, this is gonna be great – vegan lycans. How long you think that’ll last?” asked Max.

Honey, they’re normals – they don’t carry the recessive lycan gene,” responded Jennie.

I know! We’re gonna turn them!

Oh, it is my turn! I want to be the one to bestow the gift upon your friends, Mami,” added Liliana, quite excited.

 

“Um, guys, we have some potatoes I think. Krynos isn’t into the green stuff, really. Plus, there are some dietary requirements we have in this world. I’ll explain it all to you as we go along,” said Max, while the group headed up to the main hall.

 

Josh and Becky sat at the massive table that the Gunnarsson family had basically owned since they made the Rhönen their home over a year prior. No one else ever sat there, such was the respect that the castle residents had for Max, Jennie, Draagh and the rest. Josh was looking around with a great amount of interest, taking everything in, from the archaic flames that dimly lit the interior of the dining hall, to the heavy oak doors that went off to parts unknown. He had a great interest in ancient Earth history, just like Max had, but his went further, and into a particular genre of holo-vid games, in most of which he was a grandmaster champion.

“So Max, tell me, you really did see my name on the request list for the SSCC department?” asked Josh, as he nibbled away at a hastily made salad of purple potatoes and some dandelion greens.

“Yeah, sorry about that. I knew of your qualifications, but wasn’t allowed to select you due to your medical condition.”

Josh nodded, but gave Max a slight look of incredulity, prompting Jennie to add, "Josh, it's true. When I first met Max I asked him about you --"

“Yeah baby, right after you tried to shoot me in the face…”

“Max, don’t go there, please. That was a long time ago.” Jennie retorted.

“Yeah Jennie, why don’t you tell us how you guys met and all. I mean, this is all pretty amazing. I want the whole story. You know, all the salacious details and such,” said Becky, who had a nose for drama and gossip. Jennie then began with her version of how she and Max had met; starting with the moment she left the apartment she shared with Becky over a year before.

 

“So, now you’re a werewolf and you fight with swords? And Max is all that, plus he has wings and can do magic? That sounds pretty incredible,” responded Becky, after Jennie had recounted nearly their entire tale, this time without the assistance of Krynos and his exaggerated claims of wanton, sub dimensional DNA and timeline-altering violence against Ryder Johnson.

“It is, but I believe Max and I were destined to be with each other,” replied Jennie, causing Liliana to burst out, “I am also a part of that destiny. Is that not correct, Grandfather?”

Draagh, immortal Primulus and grandfather to Max, merely grinned and nodded to his beloved great-granddaughter and pupil in the ways of magic.

Ruffling her hair up, Max smiled at his precious child and said, “Sweetie, it was written in the stars that we were to be a family.”

“Josh and I want to have kids one day. But things are so messed up on Azul I don’t know when that will happen.” Becky appeared to be a bit more somber by this time, but her face carried a slightly worried sincerity to it.

“Becky, this part of the reason we brought you here. We will need your help on Azul, and I would like to extend an invitation to Josh to be part of my personal technology team. What do you say, Lieutenant?” invited Max.

“Wow, would I ever. But, we’re fugitives now, right? I mean, you spirited us away and we’re M.I.A in a manner of speaking.”

“Don’t worry about that. We’re all going to be fine. In fact, the first thing we’re going to do is set things right with the government. We already secretly command over half the space fleet, and nearly all ocean-going vessels,” loudly stated Admiral Bagatelle, as he casually walked up to the family table to greet everyone. Josh’s face turned pale as he looked at the highest-ranking officer he had ever seen up close in his life.

Jumping to his feet, he stood at attention and smartly saluted the admiral. “Sir, it is an honor, sir! And….wow, you look a lot younger than I would have….wow…”

Bagatelle chuckled and patted the young man on the shoulder, slightly pushing/guiding him back down to his seat, and taking one beside the junior officer.

“We are not so formal here inside the castle, Lieutenant. Outside yes, but here let’s enjoy our meal. I have heard your story and am personally glad you are with us.” Bagatelle lifted a hand and called to a servant for his meal – a steaming plate of roasted elk and cabbage.

“Sir, I’m Lieutenant Becky Branson, and it’s an honor to meet you also. So, you’re really Jennie’s big brother? That is so amazing.”

Becky had done her duty to properly greet the admiral, and then promptly tried to steer the conversation to the drama-laden tale of how Jennie found out her commanding officer was secretly her brother for so many years before he revealed their relationship.

“Yes, Becky. I already told you all about that,” moaned Jennie.

“So, Josh, yes, to sum it all up, I knew about you, and when I found we could do something about your condition we decided to basically kidnap you two. And we have other things to offer you as well,” said Max, while wearing a mischievous smirk.

“Um, what would that be?” asked Josh, gaining a wry smile.

“How would you two like to be lycans… like us?” asked Jennie.

“You mean enhanced strength, and all of the other sensory input that comes with it?” queried Josh.

“Jennie,” whispered Becky as she leaned over to her best friend, “does it make sex… better?

You have no idea, Becks, no idea,” sighed Jennie, while giggling with an impish grin on her face.

“I’m in!” exclaimed Becky, raising her hand. “I mean, I can still be vegan, right?”

“I’m in too, and please tell me that we can’t be vegan because, baby, I love you so much, but if I have to eat another spinach salad I’m going to start chewing my own arm off,” affirmed Josh.

“But… but, I thought you liked being vegan, honey!”

Josh shot his hand up in the air and waved a servant over. “Please, bring me a plate of whatever it is the Admiral is eating.” Then, turning to his wife he happily said, “I already feel like a lycan!” prompting everyone at the table to laugh, with Becky even joining in, as she watched her husband devour his meal with a ferocity that made her look forward to when they would be alone later in the evening.

 

The group finished their mealtime sharing stories of past and current efforts, while Josh and Becky gave details from a scientific perspective on the current state of the military. After finishing their dinner they all went with Draagh to start the next phase of Josh and Becky’s soon-to-be very long lives.

“So, all we need is an injection to become lycan?” asked Josh, from where he stood in Draagh’s study with his wife, Jenny, Max, Bagatelle and Liliana, the latter wearing an expression of disappointment at not being able to turn the newly-arrived Azulian couple.

“Yes, my boy, that is quite correct. This inoculation will provide all of the elements your body requires in order to make a gentle transformation,” said Draagh, as he conjured two sterile syringes.

“You said gentle, so that means we won’t feel any pain or discomfort, right?” asked Becky.

“Yes my dear, that is quite correct,” responded the old mage, momentarily considering conjuring a vid display of Pandy’s feigned rejection to her own inoculation not long prior. He looked at Liliana and noted from her expression that her little brain was ticking, and whenever that happened, chaos usually ensued.

“Liliana, my dear, would you be so kind as to administer the inoculations?”

Draagh handed her the syringes, with her little face lighting up and morphing into a menacing grin.

“Oh, of course, Grandfather! Ok, hold really still. Otherwise you’ll turn into a vampire!” she squealed as she jabbed a needle into Josh’s arm.

“Oh my god, are you serious? No!” screamed Becky, causing Jennie to jump to her friend’s side.

“Lili! Don’t do that! They’re new here,” scolded Jennie, while putting her arm around Becky’s shoulder. “Becks, she’s fibbing. She just likes getting people worked up,” she added, as she glared at Liliana, who was still maintaining a gleeful look of victory on her little face. Then, looking over at Draagh, Jennie saw he was trying desperately to stifle his own laughter.

“I’ll take that, young lady,” said Max, who then administered Becky’s shot in a much more gentle fashion than Liliana had done to Josh.

 

Pops, that was totally mean.”

“I thought it was rather comical, my boy. Your daughter has an edginess that will aid in her survival over the millennia.”

 

The Mannheims sat down on a bench and stared awkwardly into space, holding hands and waiting for something to happen. Then, after a few minutes, they both started to feel their body temperatures rise a bit. This led to them look at each other and start to nuzzle noses, followed by them kissing. Everyone in the room knew what was happening, and the comfort level was dropping, especially with Liliana in attendance.

“Hey guys, I’m going to get them to their quarters, like right now,” said Max, as he walked over and slipped the couple out of Draagh’s study. Returning mere moments later, Max’s face was blushed out entirely red, an obvious sign that he was embarrassed by something.

“Um, are they in their quarters now, love?” asked Jennie.

“Oh yeah. We’ll leave them alone for a while,” responded the lycan captain.

“That looked like Ali’s reaction when we inoculated her. I don’t pity them. It’s a great feeling,” added Bagatelle.

 

Max stepped over to Liliana and plucked her comm from her shirt, denying her the ability to listen in as he said, “They were nearly naked by the time we slipped to their room. It was almost as disturbing as it was fascinating. They were that fast.”

Well the inoculation was taken well by both. That is indeed a good sign!” Draagh thought back.

 

“Hey, that is totally unfair, Papi! I cannot hear what is being said,” complained Liliana.

“Oh, I’m sorry sweetie. No, nothing’s being said. I just need to check the cantuses on your comm.” Max lied to his daughter, and she knew it, but grew a wide and knowing smile anyway. Even she realized that some things were not meant for tender, young ears.

 

###

 

Len Johnson opened his eyes, having no idea how long he had been unconscious, nor where he was. Barely able to move his head, he strained to look downwards, noting that his body was immobilized up against a wall by what appeared to be some sort of coagulated slime or mucous. He also saw that there were a number of organic-looking cables attached to his body, though he couldn’t feel them. In fact, he could feel nothing. Everything was black in color, so it was difficult to get a bead on location, distance or even if he was upside-down or not. His depth perception was completely gone. Then suddenly, he heard a cacophony of voices in his head – it was chaotic, and confusing. Concentrating, as it felt like a natural thing to do, he tried to gather in the voices and tune them together. It only took a few minutes and he was listening to the Vrol hive mind communicate among itself. Then a most amazing thing happened – it addressed him individually.

 

You are now conscious. Why did you come?

I needed to speak with you, and you stopped responding,” thought Johnson.

Vrol need sleep. We were sleeping and you awoke us. Now you are with Vrol.”

No, I do not believe so. I retain my individuality,” Johnson thought back defiantly.

You are attached to us. You ship is now one with us. It will take us to you world more quickly. We shall feed.”

 

Len Johnson, planetary dictator, murderer and traitor to the human race, was now slaved to the hive mind of the most virulent alien species in the galaxy. He closed his eyes and attempted to see through his psionic connection, and managing to get a glimpse of the outside of his small ship, watched as thousands of organic drones worked at integrating his ship with the fleet.

 

Oh sharga, they’re going to piggyback on my ship to Azul,” he thought.

That is correct. We convey gratitude.

 

 

Chapter 4 – Conversion

 

Deep within the bowels of the moon base on Vera, Michael and his younger brother, Gabriel, sat with two high-ranking Azul naval officers. They had been individually analyzing various senior officers in Azul military over the past few days. It had been more than a few weeks since Len Johnson had disappeared, and Max was getting anxious about the reacquisition of Azul naval forces, so the archangels were doing their best to assist.

The two officers had been involuntarily spirited off their respective vessels, and now found themselves awkwardly staring at two winged archangels – something they had never even imagined in their entire lives. The two, both maintaining the rank of captain, were Topper Stanton and Logan Stor. Despite their rank, neither had a command of their own, but both were second in command of the vessels on which they served.

They both also carried the lycan recessive gene, thus explaining the angelic brothers’ interest in the men.

“Can you tell me why we are here, and where here is?” asked Stanton, while carrying an antagonistic tone to his voice.

“It is quite simple,” responded Michael, “we are assisting in the salvation of your world, and you both will be part of it.”

“Define what you mean by salvation,” demanded Stor.

“If we are unsuccessful, then every man, woman and child on Azul and her moons will perish. This is a plan facilitated by your so-called chairman, Len Johnson, who, by the way, is currently missing,” said Gabriel. “If we are successful, Mankind will continue to progress and eventually reach other galaxies, where he will join with his brothers.”

“His… brothers? What do you mean?” asked Stanton.

“You do not really believe that you are the only intelligent species in the universe now, do you? Please do not cause me to believe that you are simply another ignorant monkey,” retorted Gabriel.

“And what do you mean, Chairman Johnson is missing? How is he missing?” asked Stor.

“Logan, this Chairman, as everyone calls him, is patently evil, and is facilitating a planetary takeover and cleansing by a virulent alien race. These Artusians are, in reality, the Vrol, a disgusting insectoid species, created solely for the purpose of wiping out life on entire worlds. Would you like to see what these Artusians really look like?”

Michael was doing his best to be kind to the humans, even though he found their disbelief and questions to be annoying. Taking a cue from the two men’s nodding heads, he stood up and said, “Please, do not freak out. This is just imagery.”

It didn’t work.

Stanton screamed and fell backwards, while Stor soiled his pants as he remained frozen in place.

“Oh my god what the hell is that?” Stanton screamed.

Morphing back to his normal appearance, Michael sat down and attempted to calm the two men. At the same time, Gabriel performed a cantus that cleaned Stor up, the stench being overwhelming, especially for the two immortal brothers.

“Topper, that was what a Vrol ground soldier looks like, and they are the most attractive of the species. You do not want to see their centipedes up close,” informed Michael to the captain.

“But what are they?” asked Stanton, apparently not having paid much attention to what was earlier being said.

“I tire of repeating myself, brother. Can we not simply mind-wipe these two?” Gabriel added, causing the two humans to practically hold each other out of fear.

“No, Gabriel. We promised Max, so we shall give them a chance,” advised Michael, as he then gave his attention to the two men. “The Vrol simply bring death. But I believe we can answer a question you do not yet have. The question is – what are you?”

“What are we? What am I?” asked Stanton, with Stor nodding in confused agreement.

“Precisely. You both have experienced increased strength during times of stress, have had odd dreams and bite your lips, causing bleeding, especially when you are surrounded by allies from whom you need assistance, am I not correct?” Michael was extremely detailed with his questions, as he had little time to mess around with the two men. He merely noticed as they nodded their heads yet again.

“Gentlemen, you are both of the same subspecies of Mankind, called Homo sapiens canis, and if properly treated, will have amazingly enhanced strength, as well as substantial regenerative abilities. We are offering you these gifts, with the stipulation that you help overthrow Azul Naval Command, and possibly assist with a military coup of the government. You see, Len Johnson has nothing good planned for your worlds. In fact, he has a secret fleet of old Exodux barges with faster-than-light machinery nearly installed. He is facilitating the Vrol’s unimpeded arrival, where, once he has departed for Old Earth with his cronies, they will decimate these worlds. The only way to prevent this is to do exactly what we say.”

“But how do you know all of this, all of what is happening? Why are two guys with wings trying to lead this rebellion?” asked Stor, causing Michael to get a grin.

Looking at Gabriel, Michael asked his brother to invite their friend into the room. Both of the captains sat stunned, as they gazed upon a rejuvenated Rear Admiral (and soon to be Full Admiral) Luigi Bagatelle as he entered the small, enclosed space. Immediately jumping up to attention, it was obvious where their loyalties were.

“Attention on deck!” screamed out Stanton, as both he and Stor stared straight ahead while saluting.

Bagatelle merely grinned, returned a sharp salute and said, “Hello boys. It’s good to see you again. We have a lot to do, so my question is, are you in?”

“Sir, yes sir. I cannot speak for Captain Stanton, but I am in. I felt your incarceration was unjust, and it never smelled right, sir.”

"Rear Admiral, I am with you 100% sir. But for the sake of argument, if we were to have refused to partake in this bit of revolution, what would have become of us?" added Stanton.

He was merely being inquisitive, which still annoyed the two archangels, with Gabriel being the more annoyed of the two (as usual), so he interjected, saying, “We would have terminated your existence.”

“Exploding heads are our specialty,” added Michael

“Oh… I see,” responded Stanton, who then gained a wide smile, and continued, “Admiral, I would like to know more of these supposed abilities we will have, sir.”

Before either man could formulate a solitary additional word, they were both looking at a very real and menacing-looking phase 2 Luigi Bagatelle who had just morphed to his battle form.

“You are extremely lucky. You both, just like me, are lycan. As you can see, it is not rumor, nor fantasy. It is real, and we are required to save and protect the human race. So boys, shall we get going?”

“Going… where, sir?” asked Stor.

“To the 43rd century. It is there where we do initial training. I mean, we could do it here, but it is so impressive when you meet those who are going to risk their lives for a world of the past.”

“World of the… past? 43rd century? I am not quite following you, sir,” stammered Stanton.

“You have much to learn, and I believe it best that you learn in a future timeline. Mind you, we are offering you two this opportunity as you are of high rank here. Other, lower ranking individuals will not be offered such an extraordinary adventure. I suggest you not waste it,” advised Michael, as Bagatelle nodded his head in agreement with his angelic ally.

 

###

 

Bagatelle stood alongside his sister and brother-in-law, watching as captains Stor and Stanton were led away from Krynos’ castle’s courtyard by some extremely large lycan warriors. The three grinned, not at the men’s stupefied expressions, but because they would be incredibly helpful in commandeering the Azul naval fleet. Even though they had no commands of their own, they held a good deal of sway with superior officers due to their good deeds and reputations.

“I think I’ll give them their own ships once we get control,” mused Bagatelle.

“Whatever you like, Cuñado. I was simply glad to meet someone from the military who didn’t immediately accuse me of eating live kittens,” said Max.

Jennie leaned up against her husband, remembering when they first met, particularly how within ten minutes of encountering him she had tried to blow his head off.

“People are waking up now, baby. Johnson just went too far, and leadership is waking up. Plus, you’re an acquired taste, hun.”

Max snickered at his beautiful wife’s comments, and looked out across the courtyard as their daughter, Liliana, bounded over for their lunch date. She had been traveling to Vera for morning instruction on computers by none other than Kyle Reynolds, the nephew of Bagatelle’s now-fiancé, Lt. Commander Alicia Vasquez. Kyle was an expert-level computer hacker who had been brought onto the team after his parents and siblings were deleted (murdered) on Len Johnson’s orders, simply because his father had requested status on his family’s place on the New Exodus fleet. Kyle was fortunate enough to have snuck out to party with his friends on the night his house was destroyed, thus avoiding a most heinous death.

“Hi sweetie! How are your classes coming along?” Jennie asked her pretty daughter, who seemed to be growing centimeters every day.

“Hello Mami, Papi, Tío. Classes are coming along fine, but I am glad we are to have lunch together,” answered the little girl, while wearing a huge, beaming smile.

“Speaking of lunch, what’s on the menu today?” asked Bagatelle.

“Choripan, simple and to the point,” responded Max, who was actually glad to have that for lunch. It was he who introduced that particular type of sausage to the Rhönen Dominion nearly a year earlier.

“Oooh, I love chorizo sausage sandwiches, especially with sauerkraut!” squealed Liliana. “Should I inform Kyle of our most delicious meal selection, Mami? Perhaps he could join us for lunch!”

Jennie grew an awkward look on her face, knowing that her daughter had a huge crush on Kyle; she also knew that the boy wanted nothing to do with her daughter. It wasn’t that she wasn’t cute – quite the contrary – she was growing up to be quite pretty. It was just that Liliana was more of a force of nature than a mere young girl, and her magical abilities sometimes self-activated when she had emotional outbursts. On one such occasion Kyle found himself pinned up against a castle wall, completely covered in tar and goose feathers. His only crime was laughing at what he thought was a joke, while Liliana was being quite serious. In any case, he was moderately afraid of her, and would only be in her presence on Vera, where Draagh had placed a cap on her magical abilities.

“No, sweetie, we’re in a hurry. I want to spend all the time I can with you before you run back to your classes,” commented Jennie.

“Yeah, and I want to know what you’re learning right now. I think it’s great that you’re learning to use computers, Lili,” added her father, as the group all walked to the main dining hall.

Liliana then spent her lunch hour detailing her latest lessons in computer programming and operations. It was apparent that she was making incredible headway, especially given the fact that she had lived nearly her entire life in a technology-free society.

 

###

 

“Mrs. Gunnarsson, she’s a menace. I mean, I’m trying to help, but she is just … did you hear what she did to me? Pinned me up against a wall with this black glue stuff and bird feathers – and it was on accident! I’m trying to be nice, honest. She learns quickly, so hopefully she’ll be able to move on to a different teacher soon,” complained Kyle Reynolds to Clarisa Gunnarsson, Liliana’s grandmother, as the two had a frank discussion in the base on Vera.

“Kyle, sweetie, we really appreciate everything you are doing, and we understand that you’re basically stuck with us. Max will most certainly reward you for your efforts, so don’t you worry there, hun. It is just that we’re in the middle of a very important operation, and he simply wants his daughter to have as much knowledge as possible – in case she is separated from us.”

“Yeah, I know, and I’ll teach her as much as I can. You know, just between us, she’s gonna be a knockout when she get a bit older. I just hope she gets ahold of her abilities, or I’ll truly pity the guys who date her.”

Clarisa got a half-grin on her face as she nodded her head in agreement with the young man. She had already determined that when things had calmed down she was going to personally take Liliana under her wing, with the intention of teaching her to be a proper young lady.

 

Leaving the computer room, she walked out to the main training area where a mixed group of dozens of soldiers were training. She found it marvelous that 43rd century lycans were training with 29th century naval officers who had recently had their recessive lycan genes activated. The younger (if you actually thought about it – by 14 centuries) lycans had spent their entire lives training and using modern weapons of war whithout enhanced abilities. Now these new naval officers were receiving a crash course in everything ancient. However, it would soon be their turn to be teachers, as they were to train Krynos’ lycans in the use of technology – personal consoles, pistols, rifles, cannons and other devices of hi-tech warfare.

As Clarisa walked by, nearly every man and woman on the training floor stopped and stood at attention, totally out of respect for the mother of Captain Gunnarsson (and the suspected consort of the Taxiarch, though no one knew for certain). She was already used to this treatment, and although she found it a bit over the top she still popped off a cute salute to everyone, followed by a cheerful and courteous, “As you were!” Clarisa had long before served her minimum two years in the military, and although it was in a clerical fashion, she was still aware of protocols.

She didn’t look back as she passed the training soldiers, but if she did she would have seen nearly the entire contingent staring as she sauntered off. Clarisa’s regenerated beauty rivaled that of her daughter-in-law, Jennie, and the younger of the two knew it. However, Jennie didn’t see it as a form of competition – rather, she viewed it as a camaraderie between the two. They were the hot chicks wherever they went, and Jennie enjoyed frequent lunch dates with her suegra. They would discuss makeup and beauty tips, and the civilization process of Liliana, as well as crushing the dreams of approaching men while they flashed their wedding rings (Jennie wore Clarisa’s ring, while the latter had somehow acquired a new one, Jennie believing it to be from Michael).

Heading over to the mess hall, she met up with her longtime assistant (and now best friend) Janice Wong. Janice, who had been Max’s nanny during his youth, was a wily and smart woman of Asiatic ancestry – Chinese, to be precise, but more recently, her last ancestors on Old-Earth came from Peru, so the two women had South American blood as a bond, even though they were of different heritages in a manner of speaking (Clarisa was of Argentine extraction).

“Good afternoon, dear. What are we having for lunch?” asked Clarisa, as she casually took a seat next to her friend.

“Hi Clari – ham sandwiches, if you can believe. I almost feel like taking the slip back to the castle and having whatever it is they’re eating over there.”

“Well, why don’t we ask?”

 

Max, Max, are you there, sweetie?

Oh, hi Mama, what’s up?

The usual sweetie. It seems the lunch selection here is rather… light. What are they serving in the castle today?

Choripan! And it’s off the charts!

Excellent, then Janice and I will be right… oh my. Max, it is so disconcerting when you do that!”

Max had quickly slipped over and spirited his mother and former nanny to the main dining hall in Krynos’ castle before Clarisa could even finish her sentence, causing everyone seated to snicker.

“Hi Abuelita! Please sit with me so I can tell you of my lessons while we enjoy our lunch!” pleaded the young lycan girl.

After giving everyone a kiss on the cheek (a customary dego greeting), Clarisa sat down next to her beloved granddaughter and listened to the little girl ramble on about computers and Kyle, and then a bit more about Kyle, followed by some more Kyle and how good he was on computers. Jennie had to keep her head turned to keep Liliana from seeing she was about to burst out laughing, and when she almost did Max grabbed her and pressed his lips up against hers, giving her a long, sensuous kiss – not quite appropriate at the dinner table, but well-timed in any case. Melting a bit at her husband’s touch, it was enough to calm her down so she could prompt Liliana to finish her meal.

Janice merely sat, eating her sandwich while she watched everyone as if she were analyzing them, which was what she was usually doing anyway. She had a rather dry personality, but to know her was to love her, and it was a sure thing she was bellowing with laughter inside.

“Janice,” began Clarisa, in an attempt to steer conversation away from Kyle, computers and more Kyle, “how is your training with Ohiro coming along?”

“Oh you know, the usual – a bit of this, and a bit of that. Well, we have actually been studying hiragana script lately. It is quite different from the Chinese script I was forced to learn as a child. When properly written out it is quite beautiful.”

Max nodded his head in agreement. He had always maintained a fondness for the extinct Japanese culture, and thought it was great that at least someone was perpetuating its memory in a small manner.

“Mrs. Wong, you know, when we get all of this mess taken care of I think it would be great if you could maybe get Ohiro to assist in teaching Japanese culture – the language and history – at the university. It is definitely a rich part of our heritage as humans,” said Max.

“Oh I don’t know, sweetie. I would love to, but I am certainly not all that qualified to teach alone, and I have no idea if Ohiro would want to leave his home in the Dominion for something as silly as being a teacher in a university. And Max, my name is Janice. Not Mrs. Wong. You’re making me feel older than I look now, young man.”

Max blushed slightly, having always known then woman as his nanny, housekeeper, and simply as Mrs. Wong. But he was adjusting bit by bit. Then, the hybrid lycan/Primulus leader came up with a great idea.

“Hey, I just thought of something. I’m going to check out the Japanese Islands. How’s that for an afternoon project?”

“That sounds quite cool, Papi,” said Liliana, “and I would accompany you on such an important mission but I must return to my computer classes. I am sure Kyle is waiting for me.”

Max stood up, and swooping his wife up in his arms, said, “Hold the fort while I’m gone, love. I have an idea, and if I’m right, we could have a whole slew of awesome ground forces at our command.”

Max waved goodbye to everyone and went to the Quartermaster’s chambers, where he intended on having a discussion with Ohiro.

Chapter 5 – Frozen

 

“So, Mr. Draagh, you’re going to make it so our wristbands work on Azul too? That’s going to be so helpful,” exclaimed Pandy, as she sat on the ancient Primulus’ massive oak table, her legs swinging back and forth.

“Pandy and I have always worked as a team, assisting Dons whenever there were fights, so we’re kinda out of our element a bit here, if you know what I mean,” added Jessica, who had been recently wondering how she was going to fit into the whole battle scheme. She knew she could take on Vrol ground troops one-on-one, but she and her virtual sister were an excellent team and she really felt they would serve a better purpose doing what they did best, which was fighter support.

“Oh, do not worry, my dear girls, no, please do not worry at all,” mused Draagh, as he tinkered with the small, almost unnoticeable bracelets the girls wore. “All will be revealed soon enough, and you will both not only serve an excellent purpose in defending this world, but also be quite safe. That reminds me, you both claimed that you had never before tasted gelato, am I not correct?”

Both girls shook their heads, which then prompted Draagh to get a mischievous look on his face.

“Everyone is training now, or sleeping, or eating. That much is certain. I believe that you two deserve a field trip for some delicious gelato.”

“But where can we get it, sir?” asked Pandy.

 

Jessica and Pandy found themselves in Draagh’s apartment in the Hub for just a moment, where he grabbed something out of a drawer in a desk, and then were standing in an alleyway in a city during daylight hours. It was an ancient city, compared to Azul, with buildings made of brick and covered in plaster. Looking at their mentor they noticed that he had modified his appearance. His hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail, and his beard appeared to be closely trimmed. Most striking of all, he was wearing a slightly shiny, dark blue suit consisting of a jacket, matching slacks, a black collared shirt and a silver necktie.

“Girls, this is my guido look, so as to not attract so much attention,” stated the grinning immortal mage. “Please come with me. We are in what was called Venezia – Venice in your language.”

“And we speak English, right?” asked Pandy

“Yes, that is correct my dear girl. Anyway, it is here where I have encountered the most delicious gelato, and the atmosphere is perfect for an afternoon break.”

Pandy couldn’t be blamed for rhetorically asking if English was her native tongue. In her world no one even knew there were any other languages, so spread out was Mankind. Although she maintained a bit of clueless innocence, she was a quite bright.

She and Jessica both noticed something – Draagh’s choice of attire seemed to be having the opposite effect that he had claimed it would have – everyone was staring at him. Looking around, they noticed there was no one else dressed like him, and anyone would know that the best camouflage for blending into a crowd was to dress like everyone else. He failed at this in epic fashion.

“Ummm, Draagh, everyone’s checking you out,” said Jessica.

“Well, I think he looks very dignified and handsome,” chimed Pandy, as she hooked her arm around his, eager to try the much-vaunted gelato of which he had spoken on so many occasions in the past.

After making their selections at a frozen dessert counter, the three sat at their little cafe table, Draagh barely fitting into his seat, as they slowly savored the delicious, Italian ice cream. Jessica selected chocolate, Draagh had coconut and Pandy chose spumoni, which had nuts and fruits in it.

“Girls, did you know that the word gelato comes from the Latin gelātus, which is also used as a verbal cantus for freezing objects? Yes, it is quite interesting. And this view – quite lovely, it is.” He paused and looked out over the Grand Canal, with its myriad of boats and gondolas transporting tourists down the waterways of the slowly sinking city.

“Speaking of that, where, I mean, when are we, Mr. Draagh?” asked Pandy.

“Oh my dear, we are in the year 2006, roughly 800 years prior to your timeline.”

“I like this place. It’s hectic, busy, and yet friendly. I can feel the friendliness. Oooh, I take that back. There’s a vampire. He gives off super-bad vibes,” said Jessica.

Looking over, the three saw a pale, skinny man arguing with a local merchant over a product. It was obvious that the two weren’t getting along, and the pale man, correctly identified as carrying the recessive vampire gene, was beginning to get out of line with the lone merchant. Suddenly, the vampire knocked over three racks of postcards in anger and stormed off.

Sighing, Draagh turned around to look at the girls, but noticed they were already up and over helping the merchant to pick up his cards. He watched the two, smiling, as he was yet again reminded of the beauty of humanity. The girls were unable to communicate with the merchant, but once they had assisted getting his stand in order they each gave him a hug and ran off, this time alarming Draagh.

 

Girls, do not interfere – we are in the core timeline and you cannot do anything that would affect future events.”

 

However, the girls ignored him and caught up with the unpleasant person.

 

Trapped on a small bridge crossing a canal, the pale man snarled at the two seemingly innocent girls blocking his way.

Ragazze stupide, che cosa volete [Stupid girls, what do you want]?”

“Don’t know what you’re saying, Vlad, but you blew it big time messing with that poor merchant back there,” growled Pandy.

“Americana? Ah yes, always put your nose in where no belong. You wanna piece of me, then you come now!” screeched the defiant Italian gen-vamp.

“Silence!” commanded Draagh, suddenly appearing and causing all time and space to remain still. Birds were frozen in the air, water droplets didn’t move, boats stopped in place, and the only the things that even had any sort of motion were he and his two companions.

“Ladies! I took you here for relaxation and to observe, not touch, another point in time. You were about to make a tragic error – one that could have seriously jeopardized our entire mission, or at least changed it completely.”

“Oh, sorry, Draagh, What were we going to do, besides giving this smelly-ass vamp a beat-down?” responded Jessica.

Draagh sighed and looked kindly at his lovely companions. “This man will have 7 children, one of whom will grow up to be quite a nice person – quite unusual for an inactive vampire. And one of his descendants will give a job to a person who will then get to board the Exodus fleet for Azul – that person, being Max’s direct ancestor. If you were to kill this man, or alter his destiny, you would create an alternate timeline – one that is not properly connected to the Hub. It could have serious repercussions.”

He felt badly for having fibbed to the girls, as their actions wouldn’t have actually changed Max’s timeline, but in reality would have created an alternate reality. It was something no Primulus wanted to see happen, as randomly-instantiated alternate timelines turned into schisms, which then offset the balance of space/time. But Draagh always had a reason for everything he ever did.

“Oh wow, that’s heavy,” responded Jessica.

“Over my head, but I’m with ya. Sorry, pops!” said Pandy, with a bit of apology to her tone.

“Come here and stand next to me, girls. You will be able to witness something that only I can do. I am going to rewind time.”

The two excitedly jumped to Draagh’s side as he conjured his infoscreen, and splaying his four fingers and thumb out onto a circular dial-like graphic on his semi-transparent device, started to slowly rotate his hand counter-clockwise. As he did so, they girls saw ghostly imagery of themselves going in reverse motion, until they were just finished helping the merchant clean up his postcards. Stopping there, they found themselves standing in those very places, wearing stupid grins, with a smirking Draagh still seated at their tiny café table.

“Now my girls, would you care to finish your delicious gelatos before we go back home?”

Pandy and Jessica, now with a new and profound knowledge that while in another timeline they could not interfere under any circumstances, went back to their desserts, scarcely noticing as Draagh walked over to the merchant for a small conversation.

Che era vicino, mio signore [That was close, my lord].”

Sì, questo è vero [Yes, that much is true]. Avete visto tutti i segni del Grigori [Have you seen any sign of the Grigori]?”

“Non ancora, mio signore, ma io vi contatterà attraverso Socrate se dovrebbe sorgere nulla [Not yet, my lord, but I will contact you via Socrates if anything should arise].”

Walking back over to the girls, Draagh casually sat down and started to eat the rest of his gelato, which he found quite delicious and refreshing. However, before he could finish, both of the girls blurted out, nearly simultaneously, “What did you say to him?”

“You know his language?”

“It sounded so awesome!”

“My dears, would you like to see something even more… awesome?”

The two cute girls, more sisters than friends, nodded their heads enthusiastically. Draagh took a girl’s hand into each of his own and looked at the merchant, enabling them to see the man in his true form. What they saw almost made them cry out in joy. A being, made almost completely of purity and bright light was displaying a massive wingspan, and stood where everyone else merely saw a middle-aged Italian fellow selling kick-knacks at his chiosco.

“We are everywhere, my girls. You were attracted to his essence, and then only because you two have goodness in your hearts. I am proud to call you my friends. Now, finish your gelatos and we shall be off. We have much to accomplish before the day’s end.”

 

###

 

Max, Jennie, Bagatelle, Michael and Gabriel were in the main meeting hall deep in the bowels of Vesuvius’ cold moon, going over vids of the Vrol invasion of Earth. Seated among them were numerous Azul officers who had been selected, turned (or enhanced) and trained, along with some of Krynos’ squad leaders from the Rhönen Dominion. The purpose of the meeting was to show just how the Vrol operated when they got to a world.

“So, as we can see from all vids from Earth, there is no indication that they have arrived until it is too late. They are somehow masked from view, and we don’t know if it’s a cloaking technology or mass hypnotism or what. We still haven’t figured that out yet, because we know where they are now just fine. It could even be whatever it is that makes up the bodies of their ships, which appear to be organic,” said Max.

“I would like to add something most sinister. What most do not know is that the Vrol were created to wipe out entire planets, but not by blowing them up. No, that would create too much chaos with neighboring star systems – the planetary bodies are left intact. What the Vrol do is completely cover, or encapsulate, the entire planet until not a sliver of light can get through. They have millions of ships, and each one being a slightly different shape; they all connect together much like a massive, spherical jigsaw puzzle. It is like a perverse form of the mythical Dyson sphere. No one gets in, no one gets out, so they need to be stopped before they arrive, of course,” said Michael, causing some in the group to gasp.

Watching a new vid, they all looked on in horror as they saw a split-screen image, the left side showing how quickly the Vrol joined their ships together, like building blocks, while the right side of the screen showed humanoid-looking beings running and screaming in all directions, then only to see them slowly disintegrate, their empty clothing falling to the ground.

“Now, one advantage we will have is that we know they are coming,” said Max, “and thus, we can be prepared. Another advantage is that these insects rely on a system – they arrive, they are unchallenged, they encapsulate, they kill, they extract resources and then they move on. If we disrupt their system we get the upper hand.”

“Captain Gunnarsson,” asked one officer, raising his hand, “how can we get the upper hand? What do you mean?”

“First of all, we are attacking them before they get near Azul system. Secondly, well, I’ll let the Taxiarch explain that part to you,” continued Max, deferring to his father.

“We have already explained the nature of magic, so you are all aware of the particles that live in everything and are everywhere. A specific subset of these particles is dedicated towards healing. By healing I mean correcting any abnormality in their vicinity. The virulent amoeba that the Vrol rain down upon their conquered worlds would be viewed as an abnormality and would be rejected by the planetary organism – just like if you get a wooden sliver in your finger – your body eventually pushes it out. It’s a simple matter of rejection. So we don’t believe they will be able to melt anyone even if they get close enough. Our father, the Primulus Draagh, is developing a way to make nature’s healing compatible with Mankind, as you were genetically modified many centuries ago to not be able to take advantage of these healing particles.”

“And as far as them making it planetside, it is possible – they have millions of ships. There will be fighting, but we’re certain we can destroy enough of their craft so they won’t be able to properly form their sphere around Azul, or even any of the moons – and that’s another advantage. We can spread our forces out over four worlds in the system, where, as far as we know, they have only ever attacked a single world at a time. They’re bugs, and they’re not very creative. They have their way of doing things, so throw a wrench in the works and we could very well incapacitate them,” added Max.

“What about ground fighting? How are we to know their strength levels? Will we need mech-suits? Are they strong?” asked a young lieutenant who had been quiet during the meeting.

“Oh, they’re strong all right, Lieutenant,” answered Bagatelle, but not much more than your average human, and as you are all activated lycans now you will have some definite advantages. They have psionic armor that is fed by an unknown power source, but if you hit them at the base of their neck you can easily decapitate them. That is why you have been training on swords so much lately. Shoulder-mounted rocket launchers seem to be effective on the Vrol Flyers, and we are going to continue testing soon.”

“Umm, how are you going to test on them if they are still four years out, sir?” asked another officer.”

“There is an alternate Earth where Vrol are stranded. It’s where I was stuck before my family found me. We’ll be taking a trip there soon so we can get some real-time training in the field,” answered Max, sadly remembering the young neko murdered by a mutant hybrid due to his inaction.

“Captain Gunnarsson, ‘tis true that the vampires in that world are… of a jolly sort?” asked a lycan soldier from Krynos’ castle.

“Yes they are – nice. In fact, one of my best friends is a vampire. Play your cards right and we’ll go drink a beer with him when we’re done with training.”

Max and Jennie left with the trainees to supervise their practice, as Michael, Gabriel and Bagatelle slipped over to Azul to attempt contact with more high-ranking military officers, and to identify more of those with recessive vampire genes.

“I really wish I could identify the potential vamps like you guys can. It would come in handy and enable you two to run off and do other, more important things,” complained Bagatelle, as he watched the archangels invisibly mark off certain people in a crowd.

“Fear not, G, I have an idea that may assist in that effort,” said Michael.

“What are you talking about, Brother?” asked Gabriel.

“Well, as you know, we have a display in our peripheral vision. Max calls his a HUD, but we are able to see all of these things that G desires to view. On young Liliana’s suggestion, I have come up with a cantus on an eyepiece that enables much of the same viewing capabilities. I have left a preliminary model with young Jennie.”

“Great! You mean, I’ll be able to see if someone is a vampire or not?” asked Bagatelle.

“Not only that, dear brother, but also if they are lycan, normal, mage, and even a heat signature which should give an indication as to their momentary intent.”

“You mean I.F.F.?” asked Bagatelle.

“What means that, G?” queried Gabriel.

“Identification Friend or Foe,” responded the admiral.

“Then that shall be the name of the magical object – I.F.F.,” exclaimed Michael, receiving nods of approval all around.

Chapter 6 – Harajuku

 

Draagh sat at his expansive, mahogany desk in his study on the west side of Krynos’ castle, again carefully analyzing Pandy’s bracelet. Being identical to Jessica’s, he only needed to look at one, and it really didn’t take him a long time to figure out how to make them multi-frequency compatible, much like had been done with flesh and blood, in the case of using Max’s blood as an inoculator.

The two girls sat in front of the old mage, staring with wonderment, unable to really comprehend what he was doing, but still totally getting a kick out of spending time with him. He was definitely their favorite old person in the world. Draagh had taken them away from everything they ever knew, taught them some of the wonders of the Universe and even introduced them to Italian gelato in the early 21st century. He was, in the words of Liliana Gunnarsson, super cool, and he knew it. But he was also dead serious about defeating the Vrol, and knew there was an unseen force assisting them. So, in the meantime, all he could do was prepare his young charges as best he could for the war that was to come within months.

Finally finishing with Pandy’s bracelet, he set it down and performed a similar, yet much quicker modification of Jessica’s (already having known how to effect the process) and then invited the girls to take possession of their powerful wrist decorations.

“I believe everything you could do on your home world shall be possible here now, my dears. In fact, if you look at your bracelets and concentrate a bit, you will see a personal holographic display of text, providing enhanced instructions for advanced use.

The two girls were quite pleased with Draagh’s manipulations of their magic-enabled devices, but were even more impressed when Max’s wife, Jennie, showed up with the eye patch that Michael had created.

“Jess, here comes Jennie. Gawd, she’s so pretty,” whispered Pandy.

“I know, totally. Like, she could show up at a party dressed like a hobo and still be the hottest one in the room… shhhh…”

“Hey Pops! Did you see what Max’s dad came up with? This is freakin’ amazing!”

The exquisite dega purposefully strolled into Draagh’s study, wearing on her left eye what appeared to be some sort of near-transparent sheath or eye patch, but in her view it was something entirely different. Looking directly at Jessica, Jennie was able to drill down into the woman’s vital signs – heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, cholesterol levels – and even look into her genealogy: she could trace the woman’s lineage going back to her first ancestor by identifying her mitochondrial DNA and doing a comparative analysis via Socrates’ database. In fact, Jennie saw the genetic mutation denoting where Jessica’s timeline had splintered off from the primary, but chose not to say anything to the young-looking, but older lycan female. Most importantly, she could see that Jessica was lycan. Then, looking at Pandy, she did a similar analysis, but before she finished she noticed something quite intriguing.

“Hey girls, did you know you are both… cousins?”

“Whaaaaaa??” they both cried out in unison (which wasn’t all that unusual).

"Yup. It looks like your families split off about six generations back, sharing about 0.8% of your DNA, and if you think about it, that really isn't long ago."

Pandy sat still for a moment, until Jessica noticed the girl was softly sobbing.

“Sis, what’s up? Why are you crying?”

“I really do have family,” whimpered the younger of the two, looking up with hopeful, wet eyes.

Jennie sat down with the girls and put her arms around them, as Draagh leaned back and watched something that rarely happened in the universe. Most species were isolationist and brutal. Humans, on the other hand, were naturally filled with warmth and compassion. He was witnessing the most powerful magic in existence at work – love. It worked outside the realm of magic particles, nanobots and the decided order of things. It was a force of its own.

“Hey, you two. The minute you met Max you became family with all of us, but I am glad that you found some blood relation. So,” continued Jennie, “how would you like to try this new gadget Michael came up with? You gotta be careful though, because it’s the only one he’s made so far.”

The three beautiful lycan women and one immortal Primulus then played around with the Taxiarch’s latest invention, pushing it to its limits, while laughing at much of the data it presented.

Prime Commander Donus entered the room, bringing some parchment to Draagh. After courteously greeting everyone, he stood off to the side and quietly spoke with the immortal mage. As they conversed, Jennie again donned Michael’s new I.F.F. invention and scanned Donus. However, while analyzing the prime commander’s DNA she could only trace his lineage back one thousand years, and then found a massive gap in the chromosomal order – in essence, a black hole of nothingness. Draagh looked over and noticed what she was doing, and giving her a smile, winked at her.

 

Jennie forgot all about her DNA scan of Donus and handed the device to Jessica, who then used it to scan the gorgeous dega.

 

On the other side of the castle, it didn’t take much time for Max to convince Ohiro to go with him to the former Japanese Islands. In fact, as soon as Max mentioned the name of the land of Ohiro’s ancestors the weapons trainer was packing his travel bag.

 

###

 

Once they had both properly suited up for a worst-case scenario, they found themselves at the edge of the Chikugo River, in the southern city of Fukuoka. Looking out at the distant town, Max used his HUD to scan the local area.

“Ohirio-san, there is little life here. Shall we try the Tokyo area?”

Ohiro nodded silently as Max slipped them to the edge of Tokyo Bay, next to a nearly intact Rainbow Bridge. Again using his HUD, Max got a surprised expression on his face as he looked at Ohiro and smiled.

“Ohiro-san. There are lycans here. About ten clicks inland, as the crow flies.”

“That makes me very happy, Captain. I shall enjoy practicing the tongue of my ancestors with these individuals. That is, if they do not attempt to first kill us,” said Ohiro, finishing with a wry grin.

“Shall we go on foot, or would you prefer I slip us over?”

“On foot would be better. We do not wish to alarm them with our sudden presence. The gradual arrival of our scent would be much more polite.”

Max agreed, so the two navigated their way, quickly, with huge leaps over rubble and disintegrated buildings. It had been many centuries since anyone had maintained the city, so nature had taken its logical course and consumed many man-made structures.

Sticking to the streets, they ended up on Omotesandō Blvd (as denoted by a still-standing sign in Latin characters), in the area once known as Harajuku. It was there that they saw their first signs of life, and if they were expecting to be attacked they were surprised, as no one even acknowledged their arrival. People, maintaining what appeared to be a restored town, were sweeping the streets. The smell of delicious Japanese cuisine filled the air, reminding both men that they had neglected to eat lunch before departing.

“I smell… what is it I smell? It’s a soup, right?” asked Max.

“Yes, that is correct, Captain. I believe it is udon noodle soup. I should like to sample some.”

“Same here,” said Max, “but we’ll need whatever currency they’re using. Hang on a second.”

Ohiro watched as Max appeared to concentrate, one eye closed slightly.

“Captain, what is it that you are doing?”

“I’m… zooming in and watching somebody make a purchase. Ah, they have a local currency and… yes, here we go!” Max held out his hand and displayed a number of silver coins with Katakana characters, as well as Roman numerals. Dropping a few in Ohiro’s hand he started off after the amazing scent, with the weapons trainer following close behind.

“Ohiro-san, please take the lead in case anyone addresses us. I only know a few words in Nihongo.”

“Ah, the Captain knows the name of the Japanese language. I am impressed… and honored. Now I only hope that I can sufficiently communicate with these people.”

Entering into an extremely small, narrow restaurant, Ohiro and Max squeezed onto chairs at the counter, which was the only thing separating the cooking and seating areas. There was a solitary male normal preparing food. He bowed slightly as soon as the two foreigners were seated.

“[Good morning. We could smell your soup from quite a distance. May we purchase two bowls?]”

“[But of course. You accent is not familiar to me. May I ask from which region you hail?]”

“[We are from another continent – the one of Europe – to the west. We have traveled a long distance in order to meet and ally ourselves with those of our kind.]”

The cook gave Ohiro an inquisitive stare, and then politely set two large bowls of steaming udon noodle soup onto the counter.

“[Here you go, honored ones. I am to assume you are of the lycan bloodline.]”

“[That is correct. May I be so forward as to ask your name?]”

“[My name is Koji.]”

“[Ah, very good. It is an honor to make your acquaintance, Koji-san. My name is Ohiro, and my companion is called Captain Gunnarsson.]”

Koji looked at Max and nodded his head in a slight bow, to which Max reciprocated.

His name’s Koji? That’s a cool sounding name,” thought Max, over the comm.

Yes, and he knows we are lycans, which are called Ookami. Otoko for male and onna for female.”

So then I am Ookami otoko?”

That is correct, Captain. Now, shall we eat?

The two noisily slurped their soups, being the traditional way to eat in the Japanese culture, and not rude in the least. Max comically imagined Jennie being quite at home in Tokyo, where she could unleash her mad and beastly eating skills. She had, however, acquired quite a substantial amount of table etiquette since having adopted Liliana, but when she was hungry things still got messy.

Once they had finished their soups and were enjoying a cup of green tea, Ohiro again struck up conversation with Koji.

“[Koji-san – please, do you have any knowledge of a local lycan clan to whom we may speak?]”

Koji nodded his head and placed orange slices on a plate, for the two to cleanse their palates. Oranges were extremely rare, and his offering was a display of respect to the newcomers.

“[Yes, Ohiro-san. They are a Samurai family and provide us protection. They also offer fair trade, and occasionally adopt the lucky person into their ranks. I can point you to the direction of their compound if you like.]”

Captain, the lycans here are Samurai, and operate much in the same manner as we of the Rhönen Dominion – protecting, offering trade, etc.”

Max smiled and nodded his head, waving his hand over his bowl of noodles, giving them a bit of added heat, when Koji gave the captain an odd, knowing glance.

“You… mage-man, hai?” asked Koji.

“Wow! You know English?” stammered Max.

Hai – yes. Little. Not Ookami otoko?”

Max nodded his head, unsure how to respond, but said, “I am mage-man and Ookami otoko.”

Koji got a look of wonderment on his face and broke out into a smile.

“[One such as you has been expected for many moons, honored one. Please. I shall close my shop and personally escort you to the compound of your brethren.]”

“Huh?” said Max, not understanding anything that Koji had excitedly said.

“Captain. He said that you have been… expected here. He is going to personally take us to the lycans.”

After Koji had closed his shop with a pull-down metal gate, the three started up Omotesandō Boulevard in a northerly direction. Traversing a few other large (and some small) streets, they came up to a large, palatial-looking compound. Palaces in Japan were quite different from those in Europe and elsewhere, as real estate was historically hard to come by. For this reason, the rich would build expansive, single-story constructs, encompassing many square kilometers of space. To have a lot of space was a status symbol, and to waste that space was a sign of immense wealth and power.

Approaching the tall, wooden palace gate, Koji lightly rapped his knuckles upon the rough-hewn portal, performing a particular cadence that was obviously meant as a code. The gate slowly opened as Max and Ohiro followed Koji inside.

A large lycan stood in a center square, next to a lovely babbling brook that ran into a large koi pond. He was dressed down in full ancient Samurai armor that appeared to also have quadrinium embedded into it.

“[Greetings, Koji. I see you have guided two of my brothers to us. You shall be awarded for your allegiance, yet again.]”

“[I thank you, my lord. It is my honor to present Ohiro and Max Gunnarsson. They have come from the other continent to find those of their kind. I believe Max Gunnarsson is the one you have been waiting for.]” Koji then looked at Ohiro and Max, and as he backed away said, “I leave now. Thank you.”

“Okay, Koji, and thanks again! Oh hey! Wait! You forgot your… I didn’t pay for the soup… oh crap.” Max looked a bit disappointed, no longer able to see Koji, who had left the compound in a flash.

“Ah, you speak the language of the west. I shall enjoy my practice of it. I am Isamu, leader of the clan Tsuki.”

Both Max and Ohiro bowed, also quite pleased that Isamu spoke a bit of English.

“Isamu-sama, it is our great pleasure to meet you,” said Max, as he again bowed.

You bow too much, Captain, but I congratulate you on the use of a proper honorific,” commed Ohiro, who then introduced himself to Isamu.

“I am Ohiro, of the Rhönen Dominion, weapons trainer to King Krynos. It is an honor.”

“Please, join me for a drink and tell me of your journey.”

Max sat quietly as Ohiro and Isamu chatted away in Japanese, which made it much easier to detail their story, as Isamu’s English, though substantially better than Koji’s, was still fairly weak. As he sat watching, an idea came to him, and he asked Ohiro via their comm if he thought it could be a good one.

Ohiro, did you already tell Isamu that I am a mage?”

Yes I did, Captain. Why do you ask?”

Good. So he won’t freak out when I conjure an infoscreen.”

Are you going to show him something?”

More than that. I’m going to give him a gift. If he becomes startled please tell him that I only seek to give him knowledge.”

Ohiro nodded as Max conjured an infoscreen, which cast an immense glow and illuminated Isamu’s smiling face. He obviously thought it looked incredible, and didn’t even flinch when Max set a hand upon his shoulder.

I am going to give you mastery over my language, so that we may communicate more effectively, Isamu-sama.”

Isamu’s face lit up, not only from the news, but also from the fact that Max was talking directly to his mind. Within moments Isamu stood up, put a hand on his chest, and then proclaimed in a typical British accent, “My good sirs, it is with the utmost gratitude that I welcome you to our humble compound.

Ohiro looked at Max and smiled, saying, “Not bad, Captain. Lord Draagh would be quite pleased.”

“I do believe so, Ohiro-san. Now that we have the capability to speak to each other in a common tongue, Isamu-sama, I would-”

“Please, dear Captain, please. You do not need to use that antiquated honorific. Isamu-san shall suffice. That being said, may I address you as Captain-san?”

“You can call me Max. Just Max, if you like.”

“Excellent! Then please, by all means, address me as Isamu.”

Both Ohiro and Isamu smiled, and the three then went about trading information on their lands, and Max went even further, detailing whom he was and where he was from. At first Isamu found it incredible, but once Max displayed his wings and took Isamu for a small flight over the compound, accompanied by a couple of slips, the Samurai was quite convinced and willing to cooperate in any fashion.

 

“So if I understand correctly, Max, the creatures that murdered this world are on their way to your… worlds, and you seek assistance in their defeat?”

“Yup, that’s about it.”

“And, may I ask, is there a reward for this work? We are not mercenaries, per se, but we do operate in a free market and seek to earn gold for our efforts.”

“Oh yes, absolutely. Pay shall be in gold. Plus, you shall see and experience things never before possible.” Max got a grin and conjured a holographic display in the midst of the room where they were seated; causing a woman to gasp and almost drop the large sake bottle she was using to fill their cups.

“Isamu, what we have here is a view of this world, Earth, from outer space. Now watch as we travel across space to where my worlds are located.”

Max caused the view to shoot through space, passing other stars and systems, until it stopped at Azul System, showing the home world and its two moons. He then zoomed down into New Sydney, its gleaming skyscrapers shining in the afternoon sun. Isamu gazed with a look of amazement, never having seen something so impressive before.

“Brilliant! I would like very much to visit this world, Max. I can dedicate an entire regiment to your efforts.”

“Many thanks, sir. Oh, may I ask, do you have a problem with ghouls here?”

“Oh, not this far south, my good man. They occasionally make forays down into the city, but mostly stay further north. We do, however, have quite a problem with Zombie infestations.”

Max looked curiously at Isamu, and then got a sudden look of realization. Looking over at Ohiro, who had a similar expression, he explained the usage of the word, but over the comm.

Ohiro, when I taught English to Isamu, I actually used a compound cantus, premade – sort of a language-pack from the Prīmulī. Besides linguistics, it also includes history and culture. The British would always use the word zombie when referring to a cannibal. In fact, it is the same term used to describe them in Hollywood.

Ohiro acknowledged Max’s explanation, and the lycan mage went on to detail how they would also assist in eliminating to cannibal population in Tokyo, thereby clenching a deal between the Azul Military, the Rhönen Dominion and Mūnkuran – The Moon Clan of Tokyo Samurai Lycans.

 

###

 

Having returned to Krynos’ castle, Max sat with his father and grandfather, detailing his day trip to Japan. Michael appeared to have a look of pride on his face, seeing that Max was taking matters into his own hands, while Draagh sat back and used his bubblehead invention to partake in his beloved herb.

“Hey, erm, Michael. Um, I haven’t seen you smoking anything lately. Did you… quit?” Max asked his father with whom he had been becoming increasingly comfortable.

“I am now a grandfather, so I need to provide a good example for young Liliana.”

“I only partake when in the company of understanding adults,” exclaimed Draagh, as he raised a finger in the air.

Max rolled his eyes, aware that Draagh would quit when he felt damned-well ready, and not a century before.

“Max, you will need to discuss your newly-forged alliance with Krynos in a way so as to not insult him. Remember, he is a king, and he expects to be part of the decision-making process, especially as we are depending so heavily on his troops,” advised Michael.

“Um, yeah. I didn’t really consider that. I guess I can approach him like it’s good for the Dominion, leaving more soldiers here, and providing new alliances for trade,” responded the young hybrid.

“Very good, my boy!” blurted Draagh, nearly choking on the smoke inside his bubblehead.

Chapter 7 – Go Home

 

“That is so NOT fair!” Liliana uncharacteristically shouted at her mother. “I have every right to fight along your side. Have I not proven myself in training? I even killed a Vrol, while the majority of these soldiers have yet to see one!”

Jennie felt terrible about bringing Liliana back to the Rhönen, but merely wanted her daughter to be safe in case things got out of control, and everyone was certain that things would get out of control. The two sat at their usual table in the main dining hall of the castle right before lunch was to be served, the younger of the two being less than pleased with the nature of the conversation.

“Lili, sweetie, we are sending you back because we love you and want you to be safe. It’s not a matter of denying you the opportunity to fight – it’s about always being together after the fighting is over. Plus, you are young, and trust me, we’re going to have plenty of fighting in the future, whether it’s defending the Rhönen from vampires or assisting those on another world.”

Jennie tried to be slow, logical and methodical with the little girl. It was imperative that she calm her daughter down before another servant was accidentally tarred, feathered and stuck to a wall in the castle dungeon. Liliana didn’t mean to throw the cantus the day prior – it was the result of an emotional reaction. The poor woman was serving some mead one second, and in the next she was in an entirely different part of the castle, upside-down and screaming. Draagh had already fine-tuned the Liliana’s magical abilities for when she was in Azul System, only enabling certain cantuses to be performed, but in the Rhönen Dominion she had her full arsenal at her command – a substantial number of spells, which sometimes backfired when she was upset.

“Please, Mami, please let me help. There has to be something I can do on Azul,” she pleaded.

“Oh, I don’t mind you helping, but it will be from here. You are staying put in the Rhönen. If you behave we’ll take you on a nice, long vacation when we’re finished with the Vrol, but I am not going to discuss this further.”

Jennie gave Liliana a look of finality – one that seemed to say we are so totally done here.

Liliana took a deep breath and blew it out, making a loud, obnoxious raspberry sound.

“Ok, so what is it that I can do to help from here, where we do not even have any technology?”

‘My dear young girl, you can assist in the formation of my new Youth Brigade!” boomed King Krynos, who had just entered the dining hall, seeing that Jennie was in need of assistance – and a distraction for the immensely powerful young lycan mage. This caused Liliana and Jennie to both look up with curious expressions at the lycan king, who was the closest thing Jennie had to a father. Liliana also respected Krynos immensely, but knew how to work him, so she quickly changed her attitude and gave him her immediate attention.

“My King, what do you mean, this youth brigade? I recall you having mentioned something about designing uniforms for such a group.” The young girl was definitely distracted, and her mother gained an expression of relief from Krynos’ sudden intervention.

“It is a special squad of the most talented pups in the kingdom, young Liliana. Those who have not yet come of age, but still can benefit from training in the ways of war. And I wish for you to be the youth leader.”

“Me? The… leader?” she said inquisitively, while her face started to light up. “I would… love to! Yes, my King! I shall be this leader you desire! I shall assist in training my brothers and sisters in the ways of war. And then we shall perform raids on the dilapidated ruins of what remains of Vladros’ putrid fiefdom, and kill and murder and decapitate-”

“Now now, my young one,” laughed Krynos, as he put a hand on her shoulder, “let us take this one step at a time. First… we shall train. Understood?”

Liliana looked up at her King, the one absolute authority figure she had known during her entire young life. His commands even eclipsed those of her biological parents, whom had sadly murdered each other during a full moon many years prior. However, her new, adoptive parents were not mere subjects of the Rhönen. They were from the Future-Past – the 29th century; and a very technological world. Add to this the fact that her father, Max, was known as The Hybrid – a combination of archangel and lycan never before seen, so Liliana knew that she could probably get away with more than the average Rhönen child. Still, she knew how to play the game and when to show respect. This was one of those moments, so she used it to her advantage.

“Yes, King Krynos. I am honored you have chosen me, and I shall follow the orders of my superiors.”

“You see, Lili?” Jennie added. “Good things will come your way. You just need to show a little patience. And thank you, King Krynos. Your offer is truly appreciated.”

“Jennie, we must all do what we can in order to protect our worlds. Speaking of that, I believe that young Max and his father shall be soon leading the guest children and elders to their new quarters outside the castle, am I not correct?”

Krynos was referring to the dozens of Haida lycans that had been brought over from the world of Post-apocalyptic Saxman, Alaska. It wasn’t even their true timeline, as they had been transported by Marnn during one of his better days, in order to protect them from the Vrol amoebic infestation that occurred in their own timeline. Their help was welcomed, but their encampment was taking up space in the open courtyards of the castle and Krynos was eager to move them to their new apartments, where Draagh and his sons had created housing for hundreds.

“My King, I heard my papi talking about that with Grandfather Draagh this very morning,” said Liliana, answering for her mother, which prompted Jennie to start to pull the young girl’s hair back and reset her long, black ponytail. The resemblance between the two, aside from the obvious difference in complexion, was striking to say the least. Liliana was going to grow up to be a gorgeous woman, but at the moment was a little girl who needed parental guidance, especially as she had a deadly arsenal of magical skills at her command.

“Ah, excellent. I shall then discuss this further with your good father, young Liliana. Please remember, the Youth Brigade’s first meeting is this evening after dinner, at Ohiro’s quartermaster station.”

Krynos then gave the two a look of utmost affection, kissed each on the forehead and walked off without another word.

“Mami, I do believe I shall be quite content here, now that I am going to lead the Youth Brigade.”

Jennie put her arm around her adopted ball of wonder and snuggled with her, hoping in the back of her mind that she would indeed return from her fight with the Vrol.

 

###

“King Krynos, with the utmost respect I present to you new trade opportunities and an alliance that shall benefit both our worlds,” said Max, as he bowed before the king.

The leader of the Rhönen Dominion nodded his abnormally-large skull and agreed with the lycan/mage hybrid.

“Very well, Max. I trust you and your family implicitly, so I shall welcome this agreement. But before we sign any treaty, may I ask that you use your formidable skills to transport me to the land of those who wish an alliance, so that I may get some face time, as you would say.”

Max looked up at Krynos and grind. “Sir, you desire to slip out of here, don’t you?”

“Yes. I tire of the daily activities,” he said, maintaining a great deal of exasperation in his voice.

“Do you remember when I made the sushi meal?”

“It is that which I desire, Max. Shall it be of a superior quality? And with the green stinging paste?”

“Oh yeah. Oh man, yes.”

Max had, on a whim, gone on a culinary rampage some weeks before, and had introduced several different types of international cuisine to the leadership of the Rhönen. During this time, Krynos developed a particular fondness for Japanese food. Max found that the king had quite a taste for soy and wasabi – both key ingredients, aside from seafood, in the historically healthy Japanese diet. Max’s kitchen expedition was more of an attempt to keep Krynos from insisting on creating a Doubling Hand Held Instant service booth in the commissary, this being Krynos’ name for his desired duplication of the In-n-Out Double-Double cheeseburgers he had sampled some weeks earlier. The king was no slouch when it came to food. He saw the hamburgers as the ultimate lycan power food – an excellent combination of protein, carbs and grains. He even went as far as demanding they make the sandwiches with the red fruit – his name for tomatoes.

Max would have none of this, knowing that, although delicious, the burgers were not adequate nutrition, and he didn’t desire to see an obese Rhönen Dominion.

Taking this into account, he was pleasantly surprised that Krynos took an immediate liking to Japanese food. But what surprised him even more was his wife’s response. When they were initially thrown together, and during their tenuous first conversations, she had admitted that she didn’t care for seafood at all. Max was intent on changing that, and he did. Jennie had become the number one sushi fan in the entire realm.

Max thought it was great she enjoyed seafood (something she had never previously cared for), but what he really liked was the fact that it excited her, and that always led to a fun evening – once they had put their daughter to sleep, of course.

 

As the day was already half-past, Max and Krynos agreed to set out for Tokyo the following morning, at 4 a.m. The reason for this was the disparity in time zones. Tokyo was eight hours ahead of the Rhönen, so a slip out at the predefined hour would put them in Isamu’s compound at noon – just in time for lunch.

 

###

 

“Abuelito, have you been working on our idea for identifying the enemy via their genetic markers?” queried young Liliana, as she sat by her grandfather’s side.

Michael carefully took the eye patch he had developed, at his granddaughter’s insistence, and set it on the top of his desk. It was what he had earlier allowed the girl’s mother to use – a magic-enhanced head’s up display, more detailed than a lycan’s levels meter, which would identify not only the genetic subspecies of the subject, but also detail heart rate, blood pressure and a true/false identifier to be used during questioning.

“Please understand, Liliana, that this is a prototype. Once I have decided on final functionality I shall encapsulate the entire object within something the size of a contact lens.”

“Abuelito, what is a contact lens?” asked the little girl; honestly not knowing what one was, as they didn’t exist in the 43rd, nor the 29th centuries.

“Oh, yes, it is no small wonder you are unaware of them. They were tiny glass-like coverings that people would put onto their eyeballs to correct imperfect vision. They were invented in the 19th century, but were rendered obsolete by the 22nd century, thanks to prenatal gen-mods.”

Liliana was familiar with the terminology her grandfather used, especially as her father schooled her on the subject of science and all things related.

“May I test the device, Abuelito?”

“Of course, my dear. Would you like to take a quick trip to Azul so we can give it a test run while protected by an invisibility cantus?”

Liliana clapped her hands and beamed. She had become quite attached to her handsome and powerful grandfather since they had first met – even though she brutalized him during their first encounter. He had been stranded and powerless on a vegan planet, and wasn’t willing to assist in locating her father who was lost in an alternate timeline. She quickly changed his mind with some youthful determination; as well as some powerful grav-push and electrical shock compound cantuses.

“Yes please, Abuelito!”

“Ok, do you have any classes this afternoon?”

“No, I am finished for the day, Abuelito. Shall we go?”

 

Liliana didn’t even have to wait for Michael’s response. She was suddenly standing near the fountain in the gigantic Plaza de Armas of New Sydney. Looking around, she grew a huge smile as she took her grandfather’s hand.

“So we shall use your new device to identify differing subspecies right from here?”

“Hmm, that’s pretty much the idea. Think of it as an alpha test.”

“What is an alpha test, Abuelito?”

“It’s like the first time you test a concept. Then later you have beta testing.”

“Oh! I understand! Those are ancient Greek letters!”

Michael looked at the small child, impressed with her knowledge.

“Yes, sweetie. That’s right. Where did you learn that?”

“Oh, Papi was in a fight with the bad vampire back before we met you. The vampire said I am the alpha and the omega!” she said, putting comical voicing on Vladros’ claim. “And then Papi said No, that title belongs to someone else!

“Correct, my dear. That title belongs to the creator whom we know as Jah. Then what happened?”

“Papi threw the bad vampire into the moat with the sharks and they ate his guts.”

“Oh… yes, I believe I heard that story on more than one occasion. Anyway, take this. Put it on and tell me what you see. I can corroborate your readout with my own abilities as a Primulus.”

The little girl took the eye patch from her grandfather, and was about to put it onto her face when she looked at him and asked, “Abuelito, I thought you were an archangel, yet you say you are a Primulus like grandfather Draagh. Why is this?”

“Liliana, my race is Primulus, but my profession is archangel. I am their leader. One day, when I desire, I can walk around like an old man with a cane just like Draagh. Would that be agreeable to you?”

“Oh no! You are much too handsome to be an old fuddy-duddy like Grandfather Draagh. I mean… he is wonderful, but Mami does not like that he smokes the herb. Speaking of that – you do not smoke that, do you?”

Michael gave the young girl a look of sincerity and affection, reaching out and helping her to put his latest invention onto her small face, adjusting the eye patch while making a silly, pirate-like expression.

“No, my dear. It is true that I used to, but I found a higher purpose in life, and it is for that I no longer imbibe.”

Liliana looked at him curiously, pausing for a moment.

“And what is this higher purpose of which you speak, Abuelito?”

“You, my precious child. You.”

 

The two sat on the edge of the fountain's water feature, while Liliana looked through the eye patch and identified every person that walked by. The alpha test was merely to ascertain that the subspecies identification algorithm was functioning in proper fashion, which Michael determined it was. As an added benefit, it was also a wake-up call for young Liliana, who was used to being around 100% lycans all the time. The young girl was amazed that nearly 99 out of every 100 Azul citizens that passed by were normals. But the rare, occasional enhanced subspecies they encountered caused her to become quite excited. After one hour they had identified five lycans, two vampires and one mage. The lycans were all military or law enforcement, the two vampires were government executives, and the single mage ran a popular coffee stand on the far side of the mall.

“Abuelito, may I ask a question?”

“Certainly, my dear. What is it?”

“Are you going to marry Abuelita?”

Michael was momentarily thunderstruck. He hadn’t expected that sort of a question from the child. Stammering, he tried to work his way out of answering her.

“Um, really Liliana, that is something left between adults and—”

“I saw her ring. And you made it,” she interrupted, as she crossed her arms.

“It is… complicated. It is, or it was… forbidden to join in an eternal bond with a non-Primulus. But things have changed and I—”

“Oh, you bet they have changed! Is it not true that Jah is on vacation?” asked the young child.

“Um, well, yes I believe he is. Why?”

“Then you can make new rules! Life is adventure, Abuelito. It is taking risks, and loving and learning! I am only eleven years old, but I can at least tell you that much.”

Michael looked at the child, stunned at her wisdom. It was true that he did indeed love Clarisa Martinez, but that also a sense of duty forced him to pair her with a human who would provide her and Max with an excellent standard of living. However, things change, some more quickly than others, and at times it only required the pure-souled wisdom of a small child to help one see the truth.

“Yes, Lili. I do love her. Would you like for me to marry her?”

“Abuelito,” lectured the girl, “the question should be would she want to marry you?”

Michael thought for a moment and then gave the girl a grin.

“I should probably propose to her and then see, right?”

“Right! Now can we test the lie detector part of this device?”

“And how should we do that, Liliana?”

“Why do we not go to one of those awful vampires, start asking them questions and see if they lie?”

“What types of questions would these be, my dear?”

“Oh, like if they have embezzled any money from government accounts, or if they have plotted dark retribution against their neighbors for any reason.”

Michael started laughing out loud, and without thinking, relaxed a bit and stuck his foot out, causing a passing man to trip and fall on his face. Quickly gathering himself, the man got up to his feet and looked around, at the same time attempting to reset his bloody, broken nose.

“Abuelito, the poor man is injured… wait. No, it is fine. He is of the vampire genome. Shall we go now?”

 

I love this kid. Who could not?

Chapter 8 – Sushi

 

Max and Jennie sat at their usual table in the main dining hall, sipping yerba mate from their own custom-made gourds while they waited for Krynos to arrive. Kitchen staff had yet to start making the morning meal, being so early, so Max had provided their favorite hot beverage just to keep them going until they were able to eat a satisfying lunch. He hadn’t mentioned Jennie going along, but saw no harm in it, especially as she and the king were probably the biggest fans of Japanese cuisine in the kingdom. In fact, the two usually attempted to outdo each other with the amount of wasabi they put on their sushi roles.

“Good morning, my children!” boomed the king, as he excitedly entered the hall.

The Gunnarssons stood and bowed, even though they really didn’t have to. Max and Jennie were all but adopted as the king’s children (of which he actually had none), but they still accorded him the respect he deserved.

“Would you like something to eat before we go, my liege?” asked Max, as his wife nodded her head in agreement.

“Oh no! I relish the gnawing in my belly in anticipation of the most amazing food of the sea. And, of course, the green stinging paste.”

“Wasabi,” corrected Jennie.

“That is what I said, my dear girl.”

Max looked at his wife with a knowing gaze. Krynos would never admit to being in error, so they let it slide. Then, standing up, he moved towards the king, with Jennie stepping up alongside him. Pointing his unsheathed sword towards the ground, he caused the environment to seamlessly change.

 

###

 

“Where are we right now, my boy?” Krynos inquired as he looked around at the decently maintained town and sniffed the air.

“This is called Harajuku, my Lord. It is part of Greater Tokyo. Our destination is up ahead, but first, would you like to sample the most amazing noodle soup?”

Of course Max was talking about Koji’s little noodle shop. He had wanted to visit it since he had first gone to Japan, not only for the amazing flavor of the udon noodle soup, but also because Koji had neglected to charge him for the meal.

“My boy, that sounds most excellent. I shall put my growling stomach into your most capable hands.”

Jennie gave Max a sideways glance, finding Krynos’ statement to be a bit odd, but well-intentioned in any case. Max just grinned and led the other two to an incredibly small noodle counter. Looking at the establishment, and then at Krynos, Max came up with an idea.

“Excuse me for just a moment, ok?”

The two nodded at Max as he walked inside Koji’s small restaurant.

“Max-San! So good to see you! How are you now?”

“Hi, Koji! Hey, I’m great. We want some of your soup, but look – my friend Krynos won’t fit inside here. Would you let me created a patio are for you?”

Koji gave Max a confused expression, not understanding what the lycan/mage had just said.

“[Would you allow me to make an outside seating area for you?]”

Max used an ancient Primulus tool that enabled him to translate on the fly into any known language. It was his first time doing so, and finally understood how his grandfather could speak to anyone, anywhere.

“Oh hai! Yes! Thank you, Max-San!”

Max then looked out and blinked. There were four small tables, each with four chairs, where some chewed-up pavement previously existed. Koji’s jaw almost hit the ground when he saw what Max had created.

“[A gift for you, my friend. You do realize you forgot to charge me for the soup last time I was here].”

“[Max-San, I did not forget to charge you. Your honored presence was more valuable than any payment I could accept.]”

 

Max, his alluring wife Jennie, and Krynos, King of the Rhönen Dominion, all sat at a small table, nosily slurping up the most delicious soup they had ever sampled in their lives. The thick, robust noodles, accompanied by the sweet, yet spicy broth all together created the perfect appetizer for the team.

“Ah, I have put more of the wasaki sting in my soup, young Jennie. How do you respond?”

It was becoming more and more obvious that Krynos not only mangled poor Luigi Bagatelle’s surname, but also many other words. Still, Jennie answered the challenge by taking a large spoonful of the potent green horseradish and dumping it into her bowl. Krynos’ eyes lit up as he watched the woman – not out of lust, but to see if she would match the quantity he had put into his own soup.

Jennie’s complexion was dark – very dark, and near copper in color. It was rich, lustrous and beautiful, but her gorgeous color turned scarlet, having eaten so much wasabi. Max noted her distress and immediately conjured a glass of water for her, but not before Krynos blurted out in victory, “Tag! You’re it!”

Baby, give it up. He’s over a thousand years old, and probably chugged gasoline for all we know. It’s okay. We have more to eat at Isamu’s place.” advised Max using a private comm channel.

Hi wife just looked at him and meekly smiled. Then, turning to Krynos, she gave him a high-five as she tried to keep from choking any more.

 

After finishing their soups they all stood up and courteously bowed to Koji before departing and walking up the street to Isamu’s compound. Max had caused the money in Koji’s cigar box to double in quantity without notifying the man, and hoped it wouldn’t be noticed. The Japanese were very particular about honorariums and tips, and some actually felt insulted if a patron tried to leave anything extra on the table. In any case, the trio was at the gate to Isamu’s compound within minutes of their departure. The guards, of course, recognized Max, but neither his wife nor King Krynos were known to any of them.

Men stared in disbelief. Krynos was huge, and Jennie was… well, Jennie was just stunning, especially wearing her low-cut, midriff-less leather top. It showed just enough cleavage to distract anyone within visual range, and Max had encouraged her to wear it, thinking it would keep their negotiating partners off-balance.

It worked.

In fact, it worked so well that Isamu put on sunglasses, complaining about having light-sensitive eyes. This of course was an excuse to hide his travelling gaze; so magnetic were Jennie’s curves. Numerous subordinates made borderline-lame excuses to enter into Isamu’s office just to get a glimpse of the dazzling Mrs. Gunnarsson.

 

And Max thought it was cool as hell.

 

As the four sat at a traditional Japanese floor table, eating a variety of seafoods from a large, wooden platter, Isamu watched Krynos with immense amusement. The lycan king was devouring fish on a never-before-seen level. But even more impressive was that Krynos would drop massive lumps of wasabi directly on top of his food, not even bothering to dilute it in soy sauce.

“It appears that my Lord does enjoy the cuisine of my land. For how long have you known of our foodstuffs?”

Krynos made a polite attempt at clearing his palate before responding.

“Why, just recently. Young Max here introduced us to the sushi a few weeks back, in an attempt at keeping me from implementing the Doubling Hand Held Instant Service Food Bar,” said Krynos, as he gave the shocked lycan/mage a knowing wink.

“I have no knowledge of any sort of doubling, but I ordered some tempura shrimp. It shall arrive shortly,” responded the samurai clan leader, as he desperately struggled to keep from looking at Jennie. This only exacerbated the situation, causing Jennie to push the envelope just a tad more. She was married to Max, but saw no problem in getting men riled up. Making a cute yawn, she stretched her arms up above her head, exposing ample amounts of bottom cleavage.

Isamu dropped his chopsticks, while a passing clan subordinate tripped, going over onto his face and spilling a cast iron teakettle onto the floor. However, Max saw this as a bit too much of a distraction and needed to put things right over a private comm channel, so they would at least be able to finalize their trade and troops deal.

Love, I think we’ve done well. A bit of modesty is called for now.

Oooh baby, are you jealous? Please tell me you’re jealous.”

No, I mean… yes. Yes! Damn, just stop flashing the guy. Those are mine!

They are! Oh. My. God. This food gets me going. Don’t plan on sleeping much tonight, baby.

Max smiled and felt a rush of exhilaration tear through his body. He needed to get the proceedings underway before he felt compelled to drag his wife to an empty broom closet.

 

“Ah, the tempura has arrived. King Krynos, please try some. They have been deep fried with a light coating of wheat flour. I am sure you will find them to be… oh… my.”

The food was so delicious that Krynos had already stuffed three large servings into his mouth before Isamu finished his sentence

“Isamu, this is absolutely amazing. I would like to add one more item to our negotiations,” said Krynos.

“Of course, and what would that be?”

“I believe it in the best interests of both our kingdoms that we have frequent chef exchanges.”

This came as a welcome surprise to Isamu, as he had a great love for beef and elk, both being difficult to obtain on his small island nation.

“I believe we could provide the raw ingredients for these chefs also, am I not correct?” asked Krynos, as he looked at Max.

“Yes, Sire. I can easily slip an entire kitchen over, as well as take one to the Rhönen.”

Isamu’s eyes grew large as he licked his lips.

 

Jennie was practically purring by the time they had finished with the intricacies of their agreement. And as public displays of affection were not common in Japan, it was all Max could do to keep her hands out of his pockets. To make things more difficult, he needed to get her home before his cantus to contain her scent failed.

Standing up and bowing, the four then made their way out to the courtyard, it already being nighttime in Tokyo.

“So we shall begin training on the fortnight, agreed?” asked Krynos.

“Yes, good sir. I shall have my finest warriors selected and ready to go at the prearranged time and coordinates,” said Isamu.

“And I’ll make sure we get the chef exchange rolling quickly also. I have a feeling it’s going to get more interesting at home with this great food being available,” stated Max, as his wife nonchalantly slid her hand down the back of his trousers with a giggle.

 

Gotta remember to only eat sushi in private from now on.

 

###

 

Krynos, Max and Jennie slipped directly into the main dining hall, where the lunch hour was just beginning. But much to the young couple’s dismay, their daughter went bounding over to them.

“Mami! Papi! I have such wonderful news to tell you!”

“Young Liliana, it is so nice to see you, my dear,” exclaimed Krynos, as he attempted to run interference for Max and Jennie, comically aware of their urgent need for privacy.

“Oh hello, my king. And how was your day?” asked the bright-eyed child, being polite as ever.

“It was magnificent. However, what interests me is your idea for the Youth Brigade coat of arms. Have you any sketches?”

Liliana’s eyes lit up and she curtseyed to the king, saying, “Oh of course! I shall fetch them right away.” She then turned to leave, but quickly looked at her parents and said, “Mami, Papi, I am so sorry. May I tell you of my lessons at dinner tonight?”

Max nodded his head clumsily as his daughter jetted off out of the room, while it looked like Jennie was going to have a meltdown in the middle of the commissary.

As soon as Liliana was out of sight, Krynos turned to tell the Gunnarssons to leave, but there was no need – they were already gone.

Chapter 9 – Setup

 

Max and Jennie managed to avoid Liliana for the next few hours, mostly due to Clarisa’s intervention. The woman had been spending as much of her free time as she could with her granddaughter, wanting to prepare the child for life in a more civilized society – if Azul military, the Rhönen Dominion, the Saxman Haidas and warriors from the Tokyo Mūnkuran succeed in defeating the approaching Vrol.

The couple took advantage of their babysitter and enjoyed the cool breeze flowing in through the open window in their quarters, the moon hanging low in the early evening sky. As Jennie lay half across Max, she gently rubbed her cheek against his chest while she playfully walked her fingers across his well-formed stomach.

“Mr. Mage showed me some new moves today. Where did you learn that stuff, baby?” she comically asked, not really wanting to get an answer.

“Aw love, you know we immortals have secret informational sources. Besides, if you knew I could learn even more you’d become damned near insatiable.”

Jennie lifted her head and gave her husband a devious grin.” You mean it’s just gonna get better?”

Max pulled his gorgeous dega up and kissed her, drinking in her breath, as she pressed herself up against him. “Love, this is how it happens. We both learn. Together. And I’d never have it any other way.”

“Yeah,” she responded breathlessly, as she slid up on top of him, “I like it that way too. Here, I have an idea…”

 

Round four. Thank god for salubots.

 

###

 

“Abuelita, I do so like your ring. From where did you acquire it? Is it a family heirloom?” inquired Liliana, full-well knowing Michael had made it for the lovely dega grandmother.

The two were seated at a small desk in the alcove in Clarisa’s private quarters. The woman had been helping Liliana with some mathematics homework, even though it wasn’t necessary – the child excelled in the math and sciences with little effort. Still, she liked spending as much time as possible with the young girl, except for when the child asked awkward questions.

“Um, sweetie, I got it… from,” she stammered, but was cut off by Liliana.

“Abuelito gave it to you, did he not? I do spend time with him, Abuelita. And, by the way, I do approve and believe that you both make a lovely couple.”

Clarisa gave her adopted granddaughter an adoring gaze and took one of the girl’s small hands into her own. “Lili, yes, he gave me this ring. But I honestly don’t know where this is going from here. Life is an adventure. Before I came here to the Rhönen I was a senior citizen, retired, and looking forward to relaxing until I… died. But now, I’ve been transformed and I honestly have no idea where I am going from here.”

“Abuelita, why not just let it happen? You are so pretty. I know Abuelito is smitten with you, and I love my new family. I only wish for everyone to be happy – as happy as I am.”

The young lycan/mage looked at the much older woman from the future-past with a face of pure innocence and affection, nearly causing Clarisa to melt. What she didn’t notice, however, was the near-imperceptible blue glow emanating from the girl’s hands. Liliana had an agenda, and it was moving along quite well.

 

After having completed all of her homework, Liliana walked to the commissary with her grandmother. It was time for the evening meal, and the growing child was hungry – plus she wanted to watch her father’s parents’ reactions while around each other. She had earlier invited Michael to have dinner with her, but neglected to mention she would be bringing Clarisa along. As the two entered the main dining hall they saw Michael seated at the family table, along with the rest of the usual crowd. In fact, everyone was there, with the exception of Max and Jennie, who were getting cleaned up before descending from their quarters two floors above.

There was lively conversation between all of the diners, and Clarisa quickly noticed that Ohiro was also seated with the family, next to Janice, of course. He was a very proper soldier, but was now more at ease with everyone, not only because he was spending an ample amount of time with Janice, but also because he had assisted in the initial negotiations with the Rhönen’s new allies in Tokyo.

Liliana bounded up and gave everyone a kiss on the cheek, while her grandmother followed suit. When girl got up to Ohiro she gave him a whimsical half-smile. The lycan quartermaster looked a bit on the uncomfortable side, but after being nudged in the ribs by Janice he extended his cheek out a bit, which the child promptly gave a light peck.

“Good evening, Clarisa. We have waited for all to arrive before requesting our food,” said Gabriel, who had recently begun to look even more comfortable around humans. Jessica was seated closely by his side as she smiled and waved to the mother of the Hybrid. Pandy was seated next to her cousin and motioned for Liliana to take the empty seat by her side.

Draagh was seated at the end of the table, recounting tales from his adventures on a world long-before extinct to Bagatelle and Alicia, the latter having been slipped over for some well-deserved relaxation with her fiancé. But sitting in the middle of the table was Michael – he was expressionless, until Clarisa entered the room. Liliana watched the two while she took a seat next to her older friend, quite pleased with the reaction she was seeing between the archangel and the lycan female.

“Lili, tell me – how’s it going with Kyle. Your lessons and all?” whispered Pandy.

“Oh Pandy, I believe I have grown beyond him. Although he is an excellent teacher, I have no interest in any boy right now. Besides, I am much too busy assisting with the king’s Youth Brigade.”

“Great! And I love your designs! Sharks and pirates! Oh, and thanks for the pirate books. I never knew what they were before.”

Liliana smiled at her friend and looked around the table, realizing (again) just how lucky she was. Just under two years before, she was an orphan with no hope for the future. But thanks to her personality and bravery she was now part of the most powerful family on the planet, and possibly in the universe.

And she had no idea just how powerful they were.

But before she had an opportunity to further reflect on her good fortunes, Jennie and Max sauntered in, looking completely relaxed and happy.

“Evening all,” chimed Jennie.

“Ah, our stragglers have finally deemed it worth their time to bless us with their presence,” joked Draagh.

“Um, those negotiations took a bit out of us, getting up so early and all,” said Max, inventing a lame excuse for their absence during the entirety of the day. Realizing no one had yet eaten, he raised his hand to the hall servants, who immediately brought out plates of food for everyone on the table.

 

“So now that we have an accord with Isamu I believe we have enough combined manpower to recapture Azul and reform the government,” said Max, near-finished with his meal.

“I’m personally looking forward to meeting this fellow. What a concept – lycan samurais in the 43rd century,” exclaimed Bagatelle, adding a humorous tone.

“In space!” added Jessica.

“Lycans. In. Space. That really sounds cool,” mused Jennie, as she leaned up against her husband.

As usual, the two archangel brothers were quiet, but seemed to have fit in quite well. Both were sitting next to their apparent consorts while enjoying their meals and light conversation. However, they all knew that the most difficult part of their mission was yet to start. Identifying friends and enemies, transporting humans out of the refurbished barges – those were the easy parts. Now they were required to conquer Azul military. They had the Navy, to a certain extent. There were a few officers not willing to join, but rather wanted to remain neutral and see the outcome. Bagatelle would relieve them of duty once he had assumed control. He needed no dictatorship sympathizers, nor leadership without a backbone. The Vrol were to be Mankind’s greatest test, and the admiral had no option but to win.

“So when do we start training with everyone? We can’t just assume that these groups will get along. I mean, what if the Haidas and the Samurais fight like cats in a box?” asked Jennie, bringing up a very real concern.

“We should bring test groups to Vera, put them in rooms together, assign them tasks and see if they kill each other,” said a monotone-sounding Gabriel. Jessica got an impish grin on her face, finally having come to understand Gabriel’s dark, deadpan sense of humor.

Bagatelle raised an eyebrow and nodded his head, actually agreeing with Gabriel’s joking suggestion.

“Gabriel, that’s actually an excellent idea. Of course, we could never let them wantonly murder each other. We’ll have complete control, but yes – I believe we should try that right away.”

“Oh man, I never really thought either. Isamu’s troops probably don’t speak English, German or Spanish. We’ll need to give them some language lessons,” added Max.

“Definitely English. It’s the standard military language on all four worlds,” said Jennie.

“Hey, just a minute! It takes months to reach fluency in a foreign language, and besides, we don’t even know if the Samurai can read or write in Japanese,” said Bagatelle, seeing a potential issue.

“No, my dear Admiral,” interjected Draagh, “we shall take care of that. Even Max knows how to enlighten our foreign guests with the gift of linguistics.”

“Yeah, I improved Isamu’s English in seconds. I imagine the four of us can cover the entire samurai clan.”

“Max, how can you do that? I don’t understand,” asked the currently deposed rear admiral.

“Honestly, it’s some sort of language pack we inject into someone’s head. Instant language lessons.”

“Oooh! I wanna learn Spanish so Liliana and I can tell each other things in secret!” blurted Pandy, causing Jennie to give her an odd glance, while Liliana nodded her head excitedly.

“Actually, we should never use it on our friends, family or loved ones, young lady,” stated Michael, injecting himself into the conversation. “There can be certain… side effects. It is best to study the old-fashioned way.”

“I must agree with my son, dear girl. That being said, I am sure that Liliana would be more than happy to begin your instruction in either German or Spanish,” added Draagh.

“Oh yes, Grandfather Draagh, I would be most willing to assist my friend!”

Jennie thought for a moment, and then reminded herself that Pandy could be a fine friend and protector. The young woman had no ill intentions towards her daughter, and in a few short years they would both be adults – practically immortal adults, and when they were hundreds of years old those first few years of their friendship (and separation of age) would be but a faint memory.

“Spanish, Pandy. I recommend that if you study with Liliana you learn Spanish. It’s more useful on Azul. There are German-speaking areas, but they’re mostly rural,” stated the beautiful dega, who then gave Liliana a determined glare and said, “And Lili, no lisuras. Got it?”

“What’s a leesooda,” asked Pandy, attempting (poorly) to mimic Jennie’s pronunciation of the Castilian Spanish word for profanity.

“Those are bad words I am not allowed to utter, Pandy,” responded the young lycan while wearing a face of mischievous intent. “I shall teach you the proper way to speak the language of my parents!”

“I can help too, girls,” added Clarisa, seeing an excellent opportunity to get in the middle and make sure Liliana was not being improperly influenced by the older off-worlder.

“Cool! Now that everyone’s gonna get into languages, why don’t we start moving the Haida younglings into the housing we built outside the castle?”

Max was referring to the recently completed construction of an apartment complex in the meadow outside the castle moat. It was walled off and actually resembled a smaller castle, maintaining the same design motif as the older structures in the area. The walls were for the safety of the children. Even though they would have round-the-clock guards, there was still the chance that a child could sneak out and become an unwitting snack for the castle guardians in the moat.

All were in agreement that it was indeed time to move the children and the elders who inhabited the castle and the courtyard into better accommodations. The battle-aged Haidas were already undergoing a strict training regimen on Vera, and accustoming themselves to the higher gravity. Vera was slightly higher than Azul, so they would fee a lift when they moved to the main planet (if they did at all). Now all Max had to do was start bringing Isamu’s soldiers over.

 

And hope they didn’t all murder each other.

Chapter 10 – Move It!

 

Liliana sat looking out of the window of her parents’ apartment in Krynos’ castle. She watched as a large crowd of people carried belongings out of the castle courtyard, over the drawbridge and toward the newly constructed living quarters for the Saxman Haidas. Morning dew dotted the sill; she drew little designs in the moisture with her index finger while she looked on the throngs of people below. The child sighed lightly as she noticed a number of friends who were now going to be close, yet far, especially as they would eventually go to another world. She had enjoyed the previous few days, dashing in-between classes to see the new acquaintances she had made on her very first trip to Alaska on Old-Earth. Sadly, she never really got along well with the local lycan children. At first it was because she was a poor orphan; later because she was adopted by Max and Jennie. She never got to enjoy that middle stage – just being one of the kids. But the Haida children were different. They were a bit wilder than her local counterparts, and they didn’t judge her by who she used to be, or who she currently was. They were simply her friends. She knew that one day they would move off to somewhere either in Azul system of the 29th century, or relocate in her current world, but the majority of them would be lost to her forever.

Spying her two very best friends down below, she decided she would pop in for an unannounced visit. Her classes still didn’t start for over an hour, so she had plenty of time to spend with them. Plus, she had an important question she wanted to ask.

Liliana didn’t have the four-dimensional slip abilities of her father, but she did learn to perform local (3D) slips, and had become quite proficient at them. Her great-grandfather, Draagh, had created a permanent, protective shield around her, preventing her from materializing inside a wall, or, God forbid, in the moat (even though it was likely the sharks would go to her rescue rather than eat her). Looking around to make sure her parents weren’t in the room, Liliana concentrated and squinted her eyes, visualizing where she wanted to go. Her budding skills put her exactly where she desired – at the entrance to the castle courtyard – where she saw her two friends carrying duffle bags.

“Janie! Are you not excited?” she asked as her two friends gave her an astonished look. They were walking towards the drawbridge and Liliana simply appeared in front of them. They were aware she was a mage, but still hadn’t become used to seeing her appear and disappear at will.

“Hiya, Lili!” said Janie. “Yeah, I’m finally gonna sleep on a bed again. How are you doing?”

“I must be off to classes within the hour. We are to study weapons today, which ties into our meeting tonight for the Youth Brigade. Speaking of that, have you given any consideration to my offer of joining?”

Liliana had tried to recruit almost every Saxman child into Krynos’ new youth organization, but they all knew they would be living elsewhere in the near future so they declined – everyone except for Janie and Tommy Williams, grandchildren of Jake Williams, the chief of the Saxman tribe. The Earth children from an alternate dimension were fraternal twins, and were approximately Liliana’s age. They earlier said they wanted some time to think it over, and Liliana was anxious to get her two friends into her little squad of pre-pubescent lycan terror.

“We’re in. Mom and Dad said it was okay. And Grandpa actually got excited when he heard we would be hanging out with you,” responded Tommy.

“Oh, I am so happy! It shall be great fun!” squealed Liliana.

“So, what are we gonna do, Lili? Have meetings like old people and stuff?” inquired Janie.

“Oh, no. Quartermaster Ohiro is going to teach us the basics of the crossbow this evening. It shall be most informative.”

Tommy looked at his sister and grinned. The two more closely resembled people of the culture of Liliana’s adoptive mother, Jennie, than that of Liliana, as they were both partially descended of the extreme north Amerindians; themselves descendants of Eurasians that had migrated to North America some 21,000 years earlier.

“You mean a real crossbow that you can shoot?” asked Tommy.

Liliana gave the boy an almost blank expression. “Yes, of… course. Why would it not be?”

“And we’re gonna learn swords and everything too?” asked Tommy’s sister.

“Oh yes! I believe I went over some of the specifics with you earlier, did I not?”

“Yeah, you did,” said Tommy, “it’s just so new to us and everything is hard to believe. Like, how you just appear out of thin air.”

Liliana grinned. She liked it when people noticed her performing magic.

“Well, now that you committed to our group, how would you both like a little treat?” asked Liliana, gaining a mischievous grin.

“Lili, we already saw you feed a vampire to your sharks and… woah.”

Janie was in mid-sentence when her surroundings changed, suddenly finding herself in a tree house a few hundred meters from the castle. Liliana had recently built it with the assistance of her grandfather Michael. She became intrigued and wanted one after hearing her father recount stories of the tree house of his youth, and how much fun he had in it. However, unlike Max’s, her tree house was magic. It had running water, sanitary facilities and special protections. Best of all, it was invisible to the untrained eye. This was made possible by the same type of cantus used by Draagh to hide Max’s spacecraft, the Machu Picchu, in 29th century Peru.

“Lili! When did you make this?” asked Janie, as she watched the young lycan/mage grin, her brown eyes sparkling in the artifical light of their new environment.

“This is our new secret hideout. You know, like your cave in Saxman, but we’re up in a tree. Here, look out the window,” said Liliana, as she moved over and brushed short curtains away from the view portal.

“Wow. This is so… so,” started Tommy, only to have his sentence finished by Liliana.

“Cool. Yes, it is quite cool. But it is a secret. Do you both understand?” She gave them her typical serious, squinting expression. “No one can see this domicile. We are also quite protected here. My grandfather made sure of it.”

The twins nodded their heads in unison as Liliana opened a cupboard near the window, revealing a hidden refrigerator which contained a special treat – Inca Kola – a carbonated beverage from Earth’s past, and brought along on the Exodus to Azul. Liliana’s mother didn’t care for it, but Max definitely had a taste for the odd, near-fluorescent yellow sweetened drink. The young girl only drank it sparingly, knowing that soda pop, as it was called, was not healthy and was only to be enjoyed on special occasions. And this was definitely a special occasion, as the twins had dedicated themselves to Krynos’ Youth Brigade. Liliana now had her first two minions, and they had no idea what was to come their way. Perhaps if they did know they might have left, or maybe not – the mind of a child is hard to map, and is prone to much more rational thought than any adult may ever believe. Janie and Tommy were children of the forest and feared very little, making them the perfect companions for Liliana. Three brave lycan children, one with magical abilities. Trouble was brewing.

The three tweens sat on comfortable pillows, leaning up against the base of a wooden floor cabinet. The tree house itself wasn’t grandiose. Rather, it was quite plain. Four meters by four meters by two and a half meters high, it could only be entered via a 3D slip (being as its owner was a mage), and could not be entered by anyone with vampiric genes nor the cannibal virus. Further, no one could be inside if Liliana wasn’t present – unless she willed it and put an override on the protection cantus, which she was able to do. One thing Michael installed in the tree house that Liliana didn’t request was a failsafe evacuation button. Large, red and on the wall, it would activate a cantus that took all tree house occupants and slipped them inside the castle (specifically the castle’s main commissary) no matter who punched the button. Michael had become protective of Liliana as of late, as had the rest of the family.

The lycan/mage child flicked her wrist for a bit of effect and made a large, lit candle appear on the floor. She had the curtains drawn, making it eerily dark inside. In reality she could have done anything in there, so making it dark was quite easy. In fact, she knew a cantus that would make the ceiling transparent, exposing the night sky to the room’s occupants. As it was designed, it was small and cozy – the perfect retreat for children.

They sat and slowly sipped their drinks out of tin cups, savoring the indescribable flavor, but that was Inca Kola. No one ever really knew what it was supposed to taste like. Some said it was vanilla; others said it was banana. There were even those who said it tasted like bubblegum. It was unique, in any case.

“Could we have a sleepover here sometime, Lili?” asked Janie, thinking it would be cool to stay overnight in the small, elevated room.

“Oh yes! I plan on that. We can have a movie night too.”

“You have a theater? Wow!” exclaimed Tommy.

“Oh no, Tommy, We do not need a theater. Here, look at this,” said Liliana. Waving her hand, she caused cabinetry on the opposing wall to slide on tracks and separate to either side, creating a blank, white space. She then stood up and manually opened two small doors on the wall to her back, revealing an ancient film projector that had been given to her by her great-grandfather, Draagh. He had an affection for archaic, yet functional objects, and had manually rebuilt the projector, albeit with some enhancements.

“Did the theater in Ketchikan have a projector like this?” she asked.

“Pretty much, but it was a lot bigger,” responded Tommy.

Liliana moved a switch, causing the projector to turn on and start to spin, immediately showing a movie on the opposite wall. Theoretically this shouldn’t have even been possible in the Rhönen Dominion, as electrical components, for the most part, would never work – the electricity they required conflicted with magic particles. But this projector was magical, and was powered by electromagnetic particles and a simple cantus developed by Liliana’s ancient Primulus great-grandfather.

The children sat, wide-eyed and smiling, as they watched a movie called The Bad News Bears. After about fifteen minutes Liliana bolted up, startled.

“My classes! I cannot be late!”

Janie and Tommy looked at each other, amazed and a bit bewildered. Just seconds before, they had been sitting on the floor in Liliana’s tree house. Now they were standing outside their new living quarters, duffle bags in hand. Just like that.

 

“She’s fast,” said Tommy.

“Yup. You know this is gonna be a lot of fun, right?” asked his twin.

“Oh yeah. I can’t wait to play with a crossbow!”

 

###

 

“My Lord, you called for me?”

 

Prime Commander Donus walked into Krynos’ offices, due to the king having earlier requested his presence for an undisclosed meeting.

“Yes Donus, my good man. Please, come have a seat,” said the king, as he graciously stood and motioned towards the chair to the front of his massive mahogany desk. The highest-ranking military officer in the Rhönen Dominion took a seat on the large, ornate wooden chair.

“To what do I owe this pleasure, my liege?”

“Donus. We have need to discuss… succession. As you know, we are not immortal, and although our lives are long, we can die in battle. So, I wished to discuss with you the—”

“Max,” interrupted Donus. “Max Gunnarsson is the logical successor to the throne, my liege.

Krynos shot Donus a look of confusion, not understanding why his top military commander would not accept the honor for himself.

“Donus, Max has only been with us a short while, and he has his own world for which to care. I know not why you suggest his name.”

The prime commander sighed and lowered his head. He had long known that one day he would need to have this conversation with his king. The Rhönen leader had no children, no heirs, so per the law he was to select his successor. Donus had long hoped it would not be him, so throwing Max into the conversation was merely a stall tactic.

“King Krynos. I must apologize. I merely suggest the Captain as he is the most powerful person here. Well, aside from his father, his uncle and his grandfather, but they are on a completely different level, are they not?”

“Yes, I believe they are, but do not underestimate the lad. He is formidable. That being said – no. He will not be the heir to the throne. He has no right, as he is not of this land. You are to be my successor.”

“But my king, why me? Why not someone else? Perhaps a youth whom you could groom to rule properly?” Donus was grasping for straws by this time, knowing he had no more options.

“Donus, my boy, you have served me, and our kingdom well. Your father also served me, may he rest in peace. But the kingdom has need for a leader in the event I am killed or incapacitated. That leader must be strong, intelligent, fair and wise. You are that leader. I have been alive for over one thousand years, and while I may live for another thousand, I may also meet my end tomorrow morning while sitting in a toilet stall. These are the unknown details of life, and we must make preparations. In fact, I believe I have been quite irresponsible for not having dedicated myself to accomplishing this particularly vexing task for the past few centuries.”

“But why did you not make a selection earlier, my liege?”

Krynos gave Donus a kind gaze. Standing up, the king walked around his massive desk and put a large hand on the commander’s shoulder.

“There was no selection to make, my son. You are the closest to kin I have in this world, so you are next in line for the throne of The Rhönen Dominion.”

Donus looked up at his king, knowing he could not refuse. He understood that Krynos would only bequeath the kingdom to the one he trusted most.

“Very well, my liege. I shall not fail you. But at the same time, I expect to wait many centuries before taking on this great responsibility.”

“Let us hope, my son. Let us hope, indeed.”

Chapter 11 – Agreement

 

“My dear, I just want to make sure that your friendship with Liliana is conducive to her proper behavior and upbringing. I understand you have the best of intentions, but you are both from different, yet similar worlds.”

 

Clarisa Gunnarsson was in her quarters having a frank discussion with Pandy Vendetta, regarding the younger woman’s friendship with her granddaughter. She was concerned, and for good reason, that the age gap and their mutual lack of sophistication could lead to disastrous consequences.

“Mrs. Gunnarsson, please, I understand you care for Lili, but you need to know I would never do anything to harm her. But can I ask, what do you mean when you say we are from different, yet similar worlds?”

“Sweetie, I know you mean no harm. And what I meant was that you both come from – forgive me if I sound demeaning – you both come from savage backgrounds. Savage in comparison to where Max, Jennie, Janice and I are from. And if you think about it and are honest with yourself, where you come from is even worse than here in the Dominion.”

Pandy sat and thought for a moment, and couldn’t find any reason to argue. The woman was correct. Things had changed in the past few months for the young woman from Post-Apocalyptic Hollywood.

“So, do you suggest that I no longer be friends with Lili? How do you think she’ll take that? We do fun things together like sew and draw pictures, and she actually teaches me things.”

Clarisa, the former university professor, looked upon Pandy with a kind gaze, knowing the woman had only the most innocent of intentions. She also realized the girl’s best friend and virtual sister, Jessica, had taken a different course and now spent most of her free time with Gabriel. That in itself had to be devastating for Pandy, as Jessica was not only her fighting partner, but also her best friend.

“Pandy, what I am going to recommend is that you go to school.”

“School? Like a kid?”

“Basically, yes, but a modified version. I have had this discussion with Michael and he said you can attend a virtual school from the comfort of the Hub, in Max’s apartment. There you will learn scholastic basics – mathematics, English, Español, science, economics and other subjects. I will assist you – be your tutor.”

“Ok, but why do I need these things if I’m in the military… or will I be… in the military?”

“My dear, have you given any thought to where you would like to live once we have secured Azul and her moons? Would you like to stay here, in the 43rd century? Would you like to go to Azul with us in the 29th century, or would you like to return to your home in Hollywood?”

“Oh god, that’s easy. I want to go to Azul, of course!”

“Very well then. Successful life on Azul requires education. You are intelligent, but you need to fill that fertile mind of yours with knowledge – information. In a few years the disparity in age between yourself and Liliana shall wane, and I am sure you will both be the best of friends, but in the meantime, she is learning, as must you. If you think about it, in our group you are the second-youngest person after Liliana.”

“Oh wow, you’re right! You know, you’re so pretty and young looking I never really think about it. And Jessica’s like seventy-five years old and looks my age, the same as you.”

Clarisa tried not to blush, but was unsuccessful. And even though Pandy’s compliment was made with the purest of intent, it did seem a bit manipulative. Clarisa was in her early 60’s, but thanks to her lycan genealogy and relocation to the 43rd century Rhönen Dominion, where magic was reactivated, she had basically been restored to what a lycan female of her age should look like, which was the same as a normal female in her prime.

“Pandy, my dear, we are all so fortunate, and you are a lovely girl. I only wish the very best for you. So, would you like to study in the manner prescribed?”

“Yeah, I really would. Thank you. But can I ask, just to know, what if I would have said that I don’t want to study. Would that have affected my friendship with Lili?”

“Oh, my dear,” said Clarisa with a kind smile, “your friendship with Liliana would have come to a screeching halt. I only want what’s best for my granddaughter, and as I am the consort of the Taxiarch, you can bet your sweet ass that whatever I say goes. ¿Entendés?

Pandy gave Clarisa a panic-stricken look, never having heard the woman speak in that manner before. But the woman’s smile remained the same. She meant business.

“Y-y-yeah. I understand. Thanks, Mrs. Gunnarsson.”

“Oh please, call me Clarisa.”

 

###

 

“Where are the troops on this fine day, brother?” asked King Krynos, who seemed uncharacteristically perky. This usually meant that he wanted to get out of the castle and was itching for some adventure.

“Ah, good afternoon! Come, have you had any lunch yet? Let us eat and discuss the day’s possibilities,” responded Draagh, seated at his usual spot at the family table in the commissary. It was unusual for the King to eat in the commissary, but not unheard of, especially while in the company of his best friend.

“Today Max, his father and uncle, as well as Jessica are going to start bringing over some of the Samurai lycans – first to here for orientation and inoculations, and then over to the moon base on Vera. They are starting with a group of a dozen, to keep it simple. Apparently there is some concern that there may be some incompatibility between the Tokyo lycans and those of Rhönen and Azul.”

“I can most assuredly guarantee my soldiers shall behave in a manner most befitting of the Dominion!” exclaimed Krynos, quite loudly too, as a plate of roasted ham and eggs was set before him.

“Oh, I am sure that they will desire to behave, quite sure, yes,” stated Draagh, in his usual redundant manner. “However, it is not so much a matter of social graces as it is of hormones and nature. We shall see what happens, in any case. That being said, would you care to accompany me on a little trip today?”

“Yes!” bellowed Krynos, slamming his fist on the massive oak table. “I desire some fresh air and adventure. What have you in mind for the day’s activities?”

“I intend to visit Luna and Sienna, the two moons that orbit Azul. Then, perhaps we could have an early dinner at… In-n-Out?”

“The doubling? Yes! Excellent idea, brother. I have been long craving the delicious hand-held meals.”

 

The two finished their meals and set off for their first destination, Luna. Of the two Azulian moons, Luna was larger, and a bit more desert-like than its counterpart, which was almost tropical, with its lush forests and green foliage. In fact, Sienna was where the first settlements were built hundreds of years before when Mankind first arrived. The only downside to Sienna was the quantity of poisonous indigenous creatures, of which there were many species. However, modern medical technology easily created vaccines that made all inhabitants immune to the various creatures’ toxins, and later on gen mods made the need for inoculations unnecessary.

Krynos wore a huge smile as he looked around at the plaza de armas in the city center of Santiago, Luna. Even though each planetary body had representation from each of the autonomous countries (with the exception of Vera, which was shared by a composite government – not federal, but of the autonomous states), nearly the entire moon was part of the country of Andina, selected by its Peruvian and Chilean ancestors for its similarities to their countries on Earth – desert coastlines, arid mountains, lush interior jungles and lots of oceans. Their seawater wasn’t as beautiful as that of Azul, and more resembled the Pacific Ocean of Earth – dark and murky. However, Luna did have some famous surfing locations – mostly big wave surfing, with up to thirty-meter faces.

The two immensely large men, one a god and the other near-immortal, walked with purpose down the main thoroughfare, the near-immortal one noticing the beautiful women as they passed by more than the tall, gleaming skyscrapers.

“Brother, it is truly amazing how you are able to travel through space and time. So we are in the 29th century, on Max’s world?” asked Krynos, still watching everyone woman he saw.

“Close, old friend. We are on Luna, a moon that orbits Max and Jennie’s home world. Look back here. Do you not see the huge mass that nearly fills the sky?”

Draagh nudged Krynos to turn around so he would see how Azul nearly covered to entire eastern sky – looking as if it were covered in a mist. Luna orbited on its own axis, and saw Azul in different phases, much like Krynos saw his tiny moon in his own world. Luna’s orbit around Azul was forty days, with twenty of the days being exposed to sunlight, and twenty in the darkness. It was the same for Sienna, Azul’s other moon, which was tidal-locked with Luna. This made for a two-day-long phase 3 cycle for active lycans on Azul, but this could easily be escaped by going to either of the moons or even off to Vera, which orbited the gas giant Prometheus. In fact, Vera was such a reliable escape from the werewolf cycle that special cages were built in underground bunkers, similar to the cages in Krynos’ sub-basement below his castle’s dungeon.

“Impressive. Truly impressive, brother. So tell me – what is our mission today?” the lycan king asked his Primulus friend.

“We are going to make a record of the basic genetic makeup of the population.” Draagh pulled what appeared to be a pair of glasses, with a lens only on one side, from his pocket. He held it out for Krynos to take. “Put on this device. This part goes on your nose,” he instructed while pointing between the lenses. “You shall see things quite clearly once you have donned the device.”

Krynos put the device on and immediately gained a surprised expression. He started to look around in all directions, and once he had completed an entire revolution he looked at Draagh while wearing an enormous grin.

“This tells me that we are surrounded by normals. Am I to assume that if I see a ghoul it will also give me the vile creature’s information?”

“Yes, old friend, but please – if you happen to encounter a vampire, do nothing. We are currently invisible and no one can hear us, but those of this world are innocent and lack the abilities of their brethren in your world. Remember Lennie, Max’s vampire friend in Hollywood? The genetic vampires in this world have even less abilities than that poor lad”

“Yes, yes, of course. I shall conduct myself with the utmost of care. We are, after all, on a reconnaissance mission.”

Krynos continued to look around, noting that every person was non-extra-genetic, until he excitedly tugged on Draagh’s shirtsleeve.

“Brother, look! A lycan. Ah, a female, and quite lovely is she.”

Draagh spied the young woman, who appeared to be approximately Jennie’s age. The two started to follow her as she walked down the broad sidewalk and entered into a building. Taking seats in a small café, the two invisible spies sat down next to her just to watch what she was doing. About five minutes after a waiter had brought her a cup of coffee she touched her ear, activating the telephone that was embedded in her earlobe. While no one in the café was privy to her conversation, it was quite a different situation for Draagh and Krynos. They heard both ends of the call quite clearly, thanks to a quick modification to their comm devices, done on the fly by the ancient Primulus.

“Bobby, I’m in public, so I can’t really say a lot, but it’s true. The underground is all abuzz with the info. Johnson disappeared, and no one knows where he is. The weekly vid address was a fake. He’s been gone for weeks already, and the military is stumped. Two officers are also missing, and it’s assumed they are with him.”

The woman obviously had some information, and her mention of the underground piqued Draagh’s curiosity.

We figured as much, Maria. No one here knows what’s going on either, but we did manage to dig up some archived data on that house that exploded. The owner was in Johnson’s scientific group, and even though they attempted to wipe the entire family from the data net, we know they existed. They’ll be remembered.”

The voice on the other end of the call was middle-aged in sound, and apparently was part of an attempt to trace what had happened, ironically, to Kyle Reynolds’ family.

“Krynos. Do you realize what they are talking about?” Draagh asked over their shared mental comm.

“No, I do not, old friend.”

“They speak of the family of Kyle Reynolds – the nephew of the lover of Luigi Bagatelle. It appears that she may be a rebel. I find it necessary to speak with her. Please do not speak out loud.”

Draagh waited for the woman, Maria, to finish her conversation, finding that she was a reporter – a very dangerous profession in the current age. She was finishing her coffee and preparing to stand up when Draagh contacted her, pushing his voice through her earpiece.

Maria. Please, do not be alarmed. I have accessed your communications device in order to speak with you. I am a friend.”

“Who is this?” she whispered, alarmed.

My name is unimportant, but I believe I can assist you with your investigation into the death of the Reynolds family. Would you like that?”

“Even talking about that can bring death. Who are you and what do you want?”

I am here to help. That is all. And to tell you that everything is going to be alright.

“Where are you? I always like to put a face with a voice, and you sound… odd.”

You must promise me that you will not be alarmed, my dear. No one will see me but you. It is… advanced technology. Are you fine with this?”

“Yeah, sure, but… oh… my… wow.”

Draagh faded into view, seated right before the woman. It would have been startling enough, but Draagh maintained the appearance of a Viking warrior, so it made the situation all that much more comical.

Greetings. Please, continue to act as though you are on a phone call. No one else can see me.”

“Umm, and a good thing too, hun. Who the hell are you?”

All in good time, my dear. May I ask – are you a reporter with a desire for… freedom?

The woman nodded her head, confirming what he had suspected.

And you would like to know what happened to the Reynolds family?

Again she nodded her head.

They were murdered in their sleep. The husband, a fine man who unfortunately worked for Chairman Johnson, asked too many questions and was eliminated. However, his son had earlier snuck out of the house and was spared. We have him in a safe location.”

“The poor child. I’m glad he’s safe. Are you part of the rebellion? Where are you based?”

Draagh paused momentarily before answering. He figured the truth would be vague enough.

The 43rd century, on Earth. Well, that is where Kyle is. We have bases in many locations throughout space and time.”

The woman shook her head and moved to stand up, but found herself unable to do so.

“What is this? How come I can’t stand up?” she hoarsely whispered, visibly upset.

Please, my dear. I only wish to help, but you will need to accept what I tell you. Are you aware of the fate of Rear Admiral Luigi Bagatelle?

Draagh’s mention of the name Bagatelle caused the woman to relax and not attempt to stand up again.

“Bagatelle – yes. He was under house arrest, and that’s still the official story, but it’s a well-known fact he simply disappeared one day. Why? Do you know what happened to him too?”

Yes, in fact, I had breakfast with him this morning.

“Where?”

Oh, the same place. The 43rd century, on Earth.

“Ok, release me or I scream. I’m done with you.”

Maria struggled to stand up, but was unable to even move a muscle. Further, she tried to scream and her mouth didn’t work. Panic seared through her torso, terminating in her heart. She was seated in front of someone no one else could see, and she was paralyzed. She had no choice but to cooperate.

Maria – you name is Maria, am I not correct?

The woman nodded in the affirmative. He allowed her to do that much.

Now, my name is Draagh. I am one of the Prīmulī, older than time itself, and you, my dear, are quite special also. Would you like to learn of your heritage?

Again she nodded her head. She had no choice otherwise.

Listen, my dear. It is quite a tale. Do you have somewhere to be? It may take a few minutes.”

“I’m good for now. I have an interview in an hour, but it’s right around the corner.”

 

Draagh was quite convincing, and spent the next fifteen minutes explaining the history of Mankind to Maria. She was especially interested in vampires and their connection to most politicians. It turned out that the woman was a well-known reporter in Azul system, and also part of an extremely unorganized civilian underground. Her group had hacked military communications – hence, her knowledge of the disappearance of Johnson and the death of the Reynolds family.

 

“So, Draagh, if what you tell me is true, I am different than most people and things of legend – lycans, vampires, magic – they’re all real things, just not here?”

Yes, that is correct my dear. I would like to verify that your little group of rebels is… not a front. Once I have done this I shall like to introduce you to some very important people.”

“Like who? What people?”

I shall reveal this to you once I have verified your group’s intentions. Shall we meet here after your interview? I am only in town for the day.”

“Sure, meet me back here at six.”

 

Draagh and Krynos continued walking around town, and then with the mage slipping the two to various locations on the moon. They found the same normal/lycan/vampire/mage ratio everywhere they went – less than one half of one percent total of all extra-genetic subspecies. Much lower than Azul, and probably lower than Sienna. Still they had been incredibly lucky to run into Maria earlier in the day. After a couple of hours they returned to Santiago and waited outside the café they had been in earlier, hoping the woman would show up at the predetermined hour. Their luck, it seemed, never ran out.

Maria walked up to Draagh, seeing him standing outside the café. The woman was intelligent, and, not wanting to seem like she was insane and talking to thin air, she stood next to Draagh and whispered to him.

“I can see you. Are you invisible to everyone else?”

“No one else can see me. Oh, I did not tell you, I have a companion with me and he would like to meet you also.”

Krynos came into view, but didn’t cause the woman to flinch. She merely looked at him and smiled.

“Wow. You guys look like something out of history books,” she murmured softly.

“We have been told so, my dear. Please, I would like to introduce to you Krynos, King of the Rhönen Dominion on Earth of the 43rd century.”

“Greetings, young one. Are you part of the valiant attempt to free your world of the vampire scum that have so penetrated its political infrastructure?” asked Krynos

“Um, yep. That’s about it.”

Excellent, my dear,” said Draagh, “now we would like to meet your group of rebels.”

“Um, not so fast, sweetie. I need some assurance you aren’t part of some hi-tech military… oh…my“.

 

Rhönen Dominion, 4268

 

Maria found herself standing outside Krynos’ castle and looked at the moat just as one of the sharks breached and crashed back into the waters below.

“Welcome to my castle, young lady,” said Krynos.

Maria, I need for you to smell the air. Look afar and tell me if your senses are sharper,” inquired Draagh.

The woman drew in deeply through her nose and gained a pleasant look of knowledge on her attractive face. She scanned around and apparently was listening to things she had never heard before.

“It’s real. You weren’t kidding, were you? But, how did we get here?”

Before Draagh could answer, Gabriel flew over and landed with a concussive boom in front of the trio, his beautiful wings spread out and lightly flapping. Maria was more than shocked and stared at the archangel in awe.

“Father, who have you brought to us? She smells of Max’s world,” asked Gabriel.

“Who… who are you?” asked Maria.

“I am Gabriel.”

“Who is my son,” said Draagh.

“Oh my god… are you… God?” asked Maria, looking at Draagh, and causing him to chuckle.

“Oh no, no, no my dear. He, who you refer to as God, we know as Jah, and He is my father. This is Gabriel, the-”

“Archangel. Yes, I know. I’m Catholic. I just never thought that… wow.”

“It is my pleasure to meet you. What is your name, young human?” said Gabriel.

“Maria. Maria López. I’m a reporter on Azul and… oh wow. This is cool.”

“Well, Maria. It was a pleasure meeting you. However, I have great need to speak with my father. If you’ll excuse us for a moment.”

Being polite, Draagh and Gabriel walked a few meters away, and were obviously communicating telepathically. The woman could hear nothing, but Krynos called her attention to the castle.

“Maria, would you like to tour the grounds?”

“Um, sure. I guess.”

“My brothers, I am bringing young Maria into the castle. Please call upon us when you wish to depart. Young lady, come this way if you would,” said Krynos, putting his hooked arm out for her to hold onto.

Maria watched with fascination as she walked with Krynos across the expansive drawbridge. She noticed a small girl picking up an impossibly large piece of an animal carcass and easily tossing it into the moat. The child casually waved to the pair as they entered an open court, where numerous men and women moved about.

Wow, it’s like I’m in a historical vid. Craaaazy!

“So, my dear. Would you like to meet those who would save your world?” asked Krynos.

“Um, yes! Who are you talking about? And, I can’t really be gone that long, ok?”

“Lord Draagh will place you back from where we left at the same exact moment we departed. Ah, look! It is young Max. Max! Here, my boy!”

“Just a minute. Is that… Max Gunnarsson? The technology thief?”

“The one and only. King Krynos, who do you… hey! You’re Maria López! Reporter for Zorro News, aren’t you?” Max recognized the woman as easily as she recognized his name.

“The very one. I want an exclusive interview once the revolution is done with.”

“Hang on. I’m not so sure about that,” said the hybrid captain, “and we have other, more pressing matters to attend to at the moment.”

Max never had a great love for those in the news industry. They tended to fold like a deck of flimsy cards under government pressure. And it was thanks to them that the population of Azul and her three moons were so enthralled with Johnson and his new brand of government.

“I want to know how you got away with Lt. Ryder Johnson’s invention. Where did you go with it? You were reported as dead, but we hacked military transmission that said you were alive, and operating with impunity under some sort of cloak.”

Max gave her an incredulous gaze, with a rare sneer lining his lips.

“I stole no such technology. I discovered side space and invented the hook drive. Johnson’s a liar, and I have no time for people in your profession.” Max started to walk away, when his gorgeous wife approached, seeing her husband and Krynos talking with a strange woman in modern clothing.

“Hey baby. Who’s the newcomer?” asked Jennie.

“Oh my god! Lt. Jennifer Escalante? How far does this go?” yelped the foreign reporter.

“Are you serious? Max, what’s she doing here?” Jennie immediately became perturbed after recognizing López.

‘Hey, don’t blame me. The King here and that old dude out there practically accosted me in a café in Santiago. I was there for an interview, and now I’m here.”

“Jesus Christ, Max. Wipe her brain! She’s part of the problem… damned reporters,” said Jennie.

“Max looked like he was considering what his wife had just said, making Maria nervous.

“So, what are you doing here?”

“The old guy-”

“You shall address him as Lord Draagh, young whelp!” bellowed Krynos, now having lost respect for his guest. Krynos was a forgiving type, but anyone who spoke of Draagh, Max or Jennie in a demeaning fashion instantly incurred his wrath. The woman instantly changed her tone as she continued.

“Apologies. Lord Draagh found me. I guess he was listening to me speak with my underground. We are fighting Johnson’s regime, and he-”

“You’re a rebel?” Max interrupted.

“Yes, I am part of an underground network – the only one doing anything, and he wanted to meet my team. I said I wanted to make sure he wasn’t with Johnson first, so he took me here. By the way, where’s here?”

“Earth. Germany. 43rd century. Didn’t he tell you that? And you’re in the amateur league, sweetie. We’re the real rebellion,” informed Jennie, going heavy on the sarcasm.

“Yes, yes he did. Sorry. I’m just. Wow, Miss Escalante, did you know you smell amazing?”

“It’s Mrs. Gunnarsson to you.”

“You guys married? Oh please, please! I really need to have an exclusive interview with the two of you once everything’s back to normal. This is too good!”

“Girly, you don’t get shit until you prove yourself,” growled Jennie.

“Love, be nice. I know Pops, and he has a reason for everything. We’ll need the media on our side for this to work,” said Max to his beautiful mate.

“For what to work, Commander?” Maria asked.

“That’s Captain… and if you pass muster we’ll show you soon enough.”

 

“Why doesn’t my recorder work?” asked Maria López, completely unaware of the fact that technology and magic, in most cases, were completely incompatible. She was seated at what passed for the family table in the commissary, surrounded by Max, Jennie, Draagh and the newly-arrived Michael.

“Your little box is useless here, girly. Besides, you mention a word of what we have here and my husband will fry your brain.” Jennie didn’t like the woman and it showed. She was fiercely protective of her own, and she made sure the reporter knew it.

“Now, now, my dear daughter. Please. We shall need the cooperation of the news media on Azul in order to avoid epic quantities of bloodshed once our operation begins,” said Michael.

“Dear daughter? Are you Jen… Mrs. Gunnarsson’s father?” asked the reporter.

“No. I am Max’s father.”

“Yeah, Maria. You said you’re Catholic, right?” asked Max.

“Yes, and?”

My father’s… um… St. Michael.”

“¿San Miguel Arcángel?” she gasped.

Michael stood up and spread his wings out wide. Beautiful, obsidian feathers gleamed in the low light of the commissary, as the woman stared at yet another being she thought was legend all her life. She had been raised to believe, but belief only goes so far. Now she was hit in the face with reality, and it had a profound effect on her state of mind. She had a sudden realization that she was doing the right thing, and that she was in good company.

“Two angels in a day. Wow. Okay. I’m in. You can meet my underground. How can we help?”

“Well, would you like to have your lycan genetics activated so they’ll work properly back home?” asked Max.

Chapter 12 – New Alliances

 

Reporter Maria López was dropped off on Santiago, at the same exact moment she had left. No surveillance camera detected her departure or arrival. However, due to Len Johnson’s earlier orders, she was seen accompanied by two ghostly images in the café. Draagh’s typical method of feigning invisibility was fine in areas of lesser technology, but Johnson’s spies were loaded for bear, in a manner of speaking.

“Sir, we have analyzed the vid relay and Miss López wasn’t alone. She was probably with Commander Gunnarsson. It is exactly the same readout as the vid from his mother’s and her home. And look when we activate the new infrared filters.”

Ensign Piotr Jakovich was a bright technician, doing his job, as all were expected to do. However, he had an unsettling feeling about the direction the government was taking. To his credit, he was extremely intelligent and had a great sense of self-preservation, so he kept his mouth shut about his personal beliefs and simply reported his findings. Still, he found it fascinating that there were people running about, basically invisible to most sensors. But now they saw the heat signatures of two very large men sitting in the middle of a café.

“Good work, Ensign. I expect a full report on my desk by the end of your duty shift,” said Coby Worthington, Chief of Staff to the missing Len Johnson, and unwitting spy for the resistance. He had earlier learned of his lycan heritage, had vid cameras implanted into his eyeballs and was then brain-wiped, eliminating all knowledge of his off-world adventures and making him an excellent source for real-time data on the dictatorship.

 

###

 

“Are you kidding? They can see us now?” Max cried out as he stood in a plush office in New Sydney, having just been informed that the standard invisibility cantus was no longer effective. They would be required to use, in the future, a much more taxing cantus that would make their molecular structure extra-dimensional and no longer emit heat, nor even have to bend light. It would simply not be there, in a manner of speaking.

“My son, I shall be there with you every step of the way,” said Draagh, who had just informed his grandson of the unfortunate turn of events. “Now that the father of the headless Ryder Johnson is gone, I believe it will be necessary to restore the memories of Mr. Worthington. He appears to be in a position of substantial power. Let us hope it has not gone to his head.”

“One wrong move on his part and I cut it off,” mused Jennie. Max wrapped his arms around his wife and nuzzled her ear.

“You always say the most amazing things, baby,” he whispered, prompting her to calm down.

“So, Pops, how do we approach him? Do we… oh, hello Coby,” said Max.

Worthington stood motionless, paralyzed with fright, as he looked around and slowly recognized everyone while his memories returned. He had returned to his office, with Max, Jennie and Draagh fading into view as soon as he shut the door.

“Oh man! I’m so dead! Oh man!”

Jennie pulled away from Max, walked over to Coby and punched him directly in the face, knocking him flat on his back.

“Shut up, boludo! We brought you here for a reason. You know who we are… Draagh, does he remember us? Oops.”

“Yes, my dear girl. He should have recovered his memories by now.”

“Yeah, I know. I remember. Why did you make me forget?” asked Worthington.

“For your protection, Coby,” stated Max. “How many times has Johnson put you under the engram extractor?”

“Oh god, twice a week?”

“Damned good thing he’s gone now, isn’t it?” asked Jennie.

“Well, we don’t know yet. It would be better to know where he’s gone off to,” replied Max, and he was right. No one knew where the dictator was – not even Coby. Johnson only notified his pilot and copilot, coopting them from a flight deck without prior notice.

“Well, my head feels a hell of a lot better now. Oh damn, why didn’t you guys just take me with you? The dude’s a maniac.”

“Coby, we’re really sorry, but we were looking at the greater good. However, now that Johnson’s gone I’ll promise you this – we’ll let you keep your memories as long as you willingly work with us. And if he comes back we’ll take you and your family with us, ok?” said Max, feeling badly about having left the man in the clutches of a wanton torturer, but willingly lying to the man. If Johnson indeed returned they would need Coby to act as the unwitting spy again.

“Yeah, just don’t puss out on us, got it, spunky?” advised Jennie.

“No problem. I’m with you guys. Now, what are we gonna do?”

Draagh and Max went over everything they had been doing with Worthington, including the transport of the Saxman Haidas and the Tokyo Samurai lycans. Coby found the concept of Native Alaskan and Japanese Samurai lycans to be the coolest thing he had ever heard. After going through all of the details for their planned conquest he made an odd, but logical request.

“Um, if I’m lycan, are my wife and children?”

“That depends, my boy. The odds are in the favor of your children. The inactive genes are either passed along full force or not at all, unlike other genetic qualities, but they are usually inherited. Your wife is a completely different situation. In any case, we shall need to analyze them all,” said Draagh.

“Will it hurt?” asked Coby.

“Oh man, not at all, Coby. In fact, we have a new device that shows you anyone’s subspecies,” said Max. “My dad made this device, and Draagh here just decreased its size to that of a contact lens.”

“A contact lens can be detected by any of our surveillance devices,” said Coby.

“Not this. It’s organic, and would be detected as merely a pterygium,” responded Max.

“What that? A pterygilala whatever?”

“Pterygium. It’s inflamed tissue outside the sclera, common in surfers. Do you surf?” asked Jennie.

“Um, no, not lately.”

“Well, you’re starting again. Plus, it’ll be a great way to snag you without being nailed by surveillance,” said Max.

“Here, my boy. Hold still,” said Draagh, as he brusquely held the man’s head and poked a finger into his eye.

“Ouch! Crap, I thought you had magic and stuff!”

“Oh, stop being a pussy, Worthington. My god, do I have to punch you again?” yelled Jennie.

“No, ma’am. Sorry. Ok, what next?”

Draagh looked at Coby with a thoughtful gaze. He knew the time was nearing for the first part of their battle to begin, so Coby needed to stay activated.

“My boy, I am taking you back to Azul. However, before I do so we shall need to supply you with a comm, and you shall meet your commanding officer,” said Draagh.

“Commanding officer? Who would that be?”

Before he could even take another breath Luigi Bagatelle and Alicia Vasquez walked into the commissary.

“Hello again, Coby. Please meet your commanding officer and point of contact in Azul System, Commander Alicia Vasquez,” said Bagatelle.

“Admiral, Commander. I’m… um… here to help.”

“You’ll follow the commander’s orders spot-on, got it, Worthington?” demanded Jennie. She had little patience for wishy-washy people, and Coby had a lot to prove in the near future.

“Worthington, you are a lucky man,” said Alicia.

“How’s that, Commander?”

“First off, you’re lycan. Secondly, you get to work with me.”

“Ok, I’ll bite. What do we do?”

“Assign me to your team in the Chairman’s office. He’s gone at the moment, so if he returns you’ll have a great excuse – you needed reliable military assistance in his absence. If he doesn’t return then it’s even easier for us.”

“My boy, hold still,” said Draagh, as he approached Coby and placed a flat, oval broche on his lapel. Coby flinched and squinted his eyes, expecting something painful to transpire. He only realized the process had been completed when he heard everyone’s laughter.

“This is your comm. With this you will be able to communicate with us… telepathically. And it is invisible to all of your devices and sensors.”

“Um, are you sure? I just saw you and the king guy sitting in a café with Maria López.”

“I’ve been wearing one for weeks,” said Alicia.

“Seriously? Sounds awesome. Ok, I’ll test it.”

“It shall not function until you have been inoculated,” said Draagh.

“Um, inoculated? Like, a vaccine?” asked Coby.

“Yup, that’s the deal,” answered Max.

“What will that do? What’s its purpose?”

“You’ll retain your lycan skills on Azul, or any other world,” said Jennie.

“And more. But there is a down side,” said Bagatelle.

“What is that, sir?”

“Azul has a double full moon. Luna for a day, and Sienna the following day. You’ll need to take a trip. Make plans to visit one of the moons. We’ll make your cover story and hide you at our base on Vera for 48 hours. Then you can go home,” responded Bagatelle.

“But sir, what will happen if I stay on Azul?”

‘You’ll murder your wife and children, and possibly all of your neighbors,” said Alicia. Make plans, and take me with you as your aide-de-camp.”

“Got it, Commander. I’m ready for my inoculation.”

 

###

 

Coby Worthington sat in in a luxurious, leather Eames lounge chair in the expansive library of his palatial estate in New Sydney. Political life had been good to him, and it showed. But now he felt a bit guilty, sitting across from his new commander, who was posing as his assistant, or aide-de-camp. He and Commander Alicia Vasquez had just discussed the plans for their temporary absence from Azul. Max had gone to his house with them to make sure there was no active surveillance in the home, of which none existed. Further, his inoculation had unleashed his lycan abilities, and while he needed to learn to harness his new skills (which would be addressed during his convenient two day vacation), he was able to use his new comm, as well as the subspecies identifier lens Draagh had put on his eyeball. To his relief, not only were his children lycan, but his wife was as well. Subspecies tended to be drawn toward one another, and it was still a mystery how we was able to tolerate being in the presence of Len Johnson, a genetic vampire. Jennie thought it was because Worthington was an untrustworthy punk, and Max believed it to be greed. But Draagh attributed it to love – pure love. Coby loved his family more than life itself. He simply wanted to provide the best life possible for them.

“So, Commander, we’ll say we’re on a retreat during the full moons, but will actually be on Vera Base?”

“Correct, Coby. We’re on the same team. So you can call me Alicia – but only in private. In public I’ll always refer to you as Mr. Worthington. You can call me Commander or Miss Vasquez.”

“Got it. Um, Alicia? I do have a question regarding my new abilities.”

“Sure, go ahead, Coby.”

“This may sound odd, but do they make you more… oh crap, how do I put it? I feel super, like… I want to… with my wife, um-”

“Do newly-activated abilities make you aroused? Yes, to the extreme. Mrs. Worthington’s gonna be a happy camper tonight,” stated a smirking Alicia.

“Good, I mean, I was hoping it wasn’t just me getting all out of sorts. Well, I’m calling my wife in. She’s to know nothing until we’re ready to get out of town, right? Johnson could put her in the engram extractor at any moment, although he has yet to do so.”

“Yes, better safe than sorry. Your family stays in the dark for the time being.”

Coby nodded at Alicia as he pressed a symbol on his tableside intra-estate communications array.

“Margaret, honey, could you come to the library? I would like for you to meet my new assistant.”

Two minutes later, Margaret Worthington entered into the library, carrying a tray with three glasses of extremely rare and expensive cognac. She wasn’t the jealous type at all, but she was raised in a very bacho society and wasn’t accustomed to seeing degos in her home. It wasn’t that she was racist – it was just a matter of what one was used to. However, she would do anything for her husband, so she overlooked the fact that there was a darker person in her library. Despite Alicia being dega (and quite beautiful), Margaret felt completely comfortable with the woman, although she had no idea why. Unbeknownst to her, it was due to their shared genetic heritage.

Margaret was a mildly attractive woman, blonde hair, blue eyes, and slightly plump. Her racial makeup was less common (as was Coby’s) for an inactive lycan, but it didn’t matter. There were even vampires of Old-Earth African descent on Azul (though extremely rare) – race played little in the appearance of the recessive genes. They were inactive, but many still maintained a touch of their ancestors’ characteristics.

“So, you have to leave on an inspection of the security apparatus on the moons, sweetie? You do what you need to. Everything will be fine here, my love. And Commander Vasquez, thank you for your assurances that my husband will be protected.”

“You have nothing to worry about, Mrs. Worthington. Your husband is our top priority, aside from safeguarding Azul System,” responded Alicia, who was lying while wearing a big, pearly-white smile.

Chapter 13 – PAH Fun

 

At first nobody noticed any sound. It was a rhythmic vibration – a cadence that could have been mistaken for heavy machinery in the distance. But it grew in intensity, unlike any such non-existent machinery.

Neko children were the first to detect the disturbance, their hyper-tuned senses alerting them to something approaching. Something large. Scattering, the furry little cat-girls screeched loudly, bringing the barely apparent disturbance to everyone else’s attention.

“Oh crap, what the hell is that? I think we’re in trouble,” cried Adam, ready as ever to hide, never having been the brave sort. His fellow clan member Marko, however, was more than willing to confront, no matter how stupidly, any impending danger. But this time there was no need. Marko was lycan and had a good sense of smell – a sense of smell that told him the approaching sound was not that of danger.

“Mage – punk is a pussy. That’s not trouble. That’s Max Gunnarsson!”

The two went bounding down the street, a small group of neko children following in the wings, until they saw a massive throng of soldiers marching in perfect rhythm, their friend Max Gunnarsson at the forefront.

“Holy crap! It’s Max! Why the hell is he coming with an army?” exclaimed Adam.

“You only find out if you ask, magic-boy. Let’s go!”

Rounding a corner, the two were mind-blown when they saw not only Max, but Jennie and Bagatelle leading a group of a few dozen soldiers, some dressed like Max used to, with leather; some dressed in more modern clothing, and some others wearing what appeared to be archaic, alien armor from a time long-passed. All had katanas either slung over their backs or attached to their belts, and there was a group in the center with what appeared to be shoulder-mounted rockets. Running up to the approaching group, Adam was the first to greet the newcomers.

“Max! You came back! Um, you’re not here to kill us, are you?”

Captain Gunnarsson nearly started laughing out loudly as he peeled off from his troops, going over to greet Adam and Marko, both former enemies.

“Hey guys! We came for some training against demons, so I figured we’d rent out the hotel for a couple of days. Is Dons around today?”

Max was looking really well to the two Hollywood residents, but his wife was looking even better, and it was all Marko could do to keep from staring at her. “Hey Max! Um, yeah, he should be around. I’ll shoot over and notify him of your arrival.”

Max nodded to the formerly antagonistic lycan and gave him a toothless smile, turning back to his troops and leading them up the wide, repaired street.

“Hey baby, that’s the guy who was such a jerk to you, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, why sweetie?”

“He’s so checking me out. You should beat him up for looking at me.”

Max gave his wide a quick glance, only to see she was snickering under her breath. During the breeding season lycan males tended to be hyper-territorial, and Jennie was merely reminding him of his heritage, even though it was tempered by his more angelic half.

 

Dons walked out into the street just in time to see the massive throng of lycan soldiers come to a full stop in front of the club. All standing smartly at attention, staring forward, Max broke formation and saluted Dons, who awkwardly saluted back.

“Heya, mate. Can’t say it isn’t good ‘ta see ya, but why the show of force?”

“Hello, Dons. We’re here for some training against your local demons. I thought you might like some revenues for renting out hotel rooms. There are rooms available, aren’t there?”

“Oh yeah. Hardly even use the place. We use the kitchen a lot, though. Anyway, welcome and all that.”

Bagatelle walked over and grabbed the diminutive clan leader’s hand, shaking it vigorously. “It is good to see you again, Proprietor. I am hoping our unannounced arrival has not caused any sort of inconvenience for you.”

“Eh? No, mate. Teeth is teeth, ya know? Anyway, it’s been too long. Thought you all forgot about us here.”

“Dons, I apologize for the intrusion, but we need to train for an upcoming battle and this is the only place where we can fight against live Vrol,” said Max, uncharacteristically interrupting Bagatelle.

“Heya mate! Anything you like. Less demons is a good thing for us all ya know?”

Sorry for cutting in, Admiral, but Dons aspires to very little – less demons/Vrol and more teeth/currency.”

Bagatelle knowingly nodded to Max and turned, and then ordered his troops to file in formation in front of the Hotel California.

Jennie still didn’t want to let go of the fact that Marko had been a jerk to Max, so she sauntered over to him, making sure the top buttons of her field uniform were undone. “So, you’re the lycan who fought my husband, aren’t you?” she asked the stunned Marko, who could do nothing but stare at her unrealistically-exposed cleavage.

“Umm, yes… erm… he was…a … great opponent… victor… yes.”

Jennie looked around and noticed that nearly the entire village had awoken to view the friendly invaders. Massive throngs of people gathered around the off-world troops, staring at their alien wares and armor.

“Max told me you were a formidable opponent,” she continued.

“Well, I was… honestly… your… oh crap!” Marko dropped to a knee in front of the gorgeous dega. “I am nothing compared to Max. He destroyed me. He is what I aspire to be, even though I shall never reach his level. You are a goddess, Mrs. Gunnarsson. Please, accept my humble services.”

Marko almost started to sob, when Max shot over, wearing an awkward look that matched Jennie’s, neither knowing what to do at the moment. Fortunately, Max was a quick thinker.

“Marko! Stand up!”

“Sir!

“Do you know what you have, soldier?”

“No… I really do not sir.”

“You have dumb-ass bravery. That is the most valuable currency a soldier possesses.”

“Huh? Max… what?”

“Take the compliment!” Max yelled.

“Yes sir!”

Then, the now-famous lycan mage gave Marko a kind and considerate glance, while saying, “Marko… I could use bravery such as yours. Would you like to join our fight?”

“Yes sir! It would be my honor!”

“Then you must first do one thing, Marko!”

“And what is that, sir?”

“Never… never, ever look at my wife’s breasts again!”

Oh my god baby, you are so in for it tonight! You’d better get that master suite.”

You know it, love.”

“Sir, I apologize! I am sorry. They are… just… so… perfect!”

Max was about to berate the lycan when the entire contingency, at Bagatelle’s command, yelled out, “Correct, sir!”

Jennie nearly fell to her knees in laughter, while Max did everything he could to keep from doing the same.

“Heya Maxie. You got the master suite, ya know. No one’s ever allowed there. Anyway, welcome, mate. I…. missed ya.”

 

I took about 30 minutes to assign rooms to the soldiers, with Max having to modify some habitations to facilitate more occupants. They were not there for comfort; they were there for training. Fortunately, before he could finish, his parents showed up, along with his daughter and grandfather.

“My boy, shall I assist in room modification? It does seem you may be a bit overwhelmed at the moment,” mused Draagh.

“Heya Pops, ya, I think I could use the help. Hey, why’d you bring Mom and Liliana?”

“They should watch your good deeds, my boy. Plus, I shall soon transport your daughter’s friends from Saxman, so they may be able to extract any leftover items from their village up north.”

“Hello, Max, sweetie. You are doing such an excellent job,” said Max’s usually doting mother.

“Papi, what I believe Abuelita means to say is that you are simply awesome at everything you do,” added his precocious daughter.

 

Marko and Adam, always at the perimeter, merely stared at Max’s mother, not knowing how to absorb the fact that the woman who gave birth to the lycan mage was such a smoking-hot female. Marko grew a wide grin, until he was kindly reminded by his fake-mage counterpart, “Dude. Ain’t gonna happen. Ever. That’s Max’s mom.”

Marko sneered for a moment, until Clarisa hooked her arm into Michael’s and looked up at him lovingly.

“And he, as you might remember, is Max’s dad,” informed Adam, while Marko’s face sagged and he stomped off to the bar.

 

Max and his entire crew sat in Dons’ bar, with Liliana sandwiched between her parents on a couch that Dons had certified to be neko-free. Everyone had cold beers, except for the young girl, who was enjoying Jessica’s old favorite – non-alcoholic ginger beer. The establishment was packed full of soldiers, all enjoying their drinks, with the Rhönen soldiers being uncharacteristically well behaved.

“So, how far do we need to go out before we run into any Vrol?” asked Max, wanting to get down to business and get his troops some live action to very next morning.

“They’ve been staying pretty far out – a few clicks, recently. We have a static population, and a certain amount of teeth in circulation, so no inflation. But if we were to hit a shortage of teeth we’d have to go out hunting, ya know?” Dons certainly had a good handle on supply and demand, and appeared to nearly be the leader of the entire area.

“Great. Well, it’s still light out, not that it would matter anyway,” said Max, “but I think we need to do some recon. Michael, you wanna check out the area?”

“Sounds like fun, son,” replied the timeless archangel as he stood up and stretched out his wings, with Max doing the same. This caused a bit of surprised to most everyone in the bar. They were all familiar with Max the off-world lycan and mage, but he had never returned to show the abilities he gained once he had acquired his ghanlo.

“Whoah! Max! You’re just full of surprised, mate!” Dons exclaimed while wearing a huge grin.

“My papi has un poco de todo, Mr. Dons,” informed Liliana.

“Huh? What’s that, little girl?”

“He has a bit of everything. You should really study Castilian, Mr. Dons,” said the smallest Gunnarsson, causing the usually stoic Bagatelle to break out into a smile.

Dons turned around and was about to say something to Max, but the Hybrid and his father had already departed via convenient 3d slips. Looking over, Dons saw Marko working the bar like crazy, bringing in plenty of revenue by selling beers and various drink concoctions. Aside from meeting Krynos, it was the first time Marko had been surrounded by fully activated lycans from other worlds. He felt small and weak around them, but he was still stronger than Dons or Adam, so that much kept him satisfied.

“We need to feed the boys before they drink too much. I want them all at their best when we go Vrol hunting,” said Bagatelle. “We’re getting up, unannounced, at four a.m. for some recon.”

“I’ll sleep in, if ya don’t mind,” laughed Dons.

 

The two angels – a father and son – streaked over the west side of Los Angeles, searching for any signs of Vrol. They noticed some small communities, mostly mixed but having a larger percentage of normals than enhanced subspecies. They kept heading toward the ocean until Max remembered Vrol don’t like open water.

“Hey, um, Mike, we won’t find any Vrol here. They don’t like water. But let’s hit Santa Monica anyway. I read a lot about it and wanna see if there are any hidden lairs for ground bugs.”

“Max, we should probably wait until nightfall. The rancid creatures shall leave their domiciles in order to hunt their helpless prey.”

“Rancid? Domiciles? Really? You lived in hippy-land for a quarter-century and you instantly revert back speaking like William Shakespeare half the time?”

“Dude?” Michael tried.

“Better. Try some contractions too. Anyway, did you notice the buildings along the seashore are in much better shape the further inland?”

The two landed on Santa Monica Blvd., Max hitting the ground hard and trying to mimic how his father and uncle make their impressive, unannounced entries. Getting up from his one bent knee, Max looked around at the vacant buildings and turned to his father, noting the archangel had an appraising grin on his face.

“What?” Max demanded, giving his father a quizzical glare.

“Your landing was impressive, son. When you were born I imagined us one day flying together.”

“Oh yeah, and then you decided to hang out in the land of stinky people for 100 years. You know, if Draagh had never found me I would have simply died as an inactivated normal before you ever showed up.”

“Max, first of all, you would have never died – even without activating your mother’s part of your genome you still had mine and would have thrived forever. Plus, one of us would have eventually found you. And some things are simply meant to be. Father made sure all went according to plan. He told me so.”

“Um, yeah. Right. Okay, so let’s start looking for nasties. I wonder if they have dens or something. Never really gave it any consideration when I was stuck here.”

“Let’s look from above. And remember to use your view. What do you call it? A HUD? I am certain it is much more enhanced now that you have a ghanlo.”

“Oh yeah you bet it is! Before it was only some lines giving me personal info, but now it gives me data on other things.”

“Very well, son. Use it to identify those whom we seek.”

“Boy, you will not end a sentence with a preposition, will you?”

The two bolted up into the sky, the younger of the two relishing in his ability to fly… with his father.

 

“Jennie, now that Draagh has been so kind to provide us with the raw materials, could you assist in meal preparation, my dear?”

Jennie gave Clarisa Gunnarsson an alarmed stare, being the younger woman had relatively no cooking experience whatsoever. They were standing in the kitchen of the hotel, and Jennie couldn’t have looked more out of place.

“Um, mamita, erm… I don’t know how to cook. I always just went to the mess hall,” stammered the beautiful young woman. She had on two occasions clumsily put together some empanadas for Max, and while they had an excellent flavor, they were amazingly simple to prepare. What Clarisa requested was on a completely different level.

“Fear not, my dears,” boomed Draagh, “if you stand aside, I shall prepare the food for our hungry masses. Jennie, I do believe your efforts would be better concentrated on assisting Liliana with her schoolwork.”

Jennie gave her grandfather-in-law an awkward look and bolted out of the kitchen and up to the master suite, where Liliana was going over an assignment due the following day.

“Now, young Clarisa, you have done an excellent job in basic preparation. I shall merely replicate your efforts and then bring our hungry soldiers over for their dinners.”

Twenty minutes later the dining area of Hotel California was filled with soldiers from various worlds, eating their evening meals and engaging in loud conversation, as was typical of lycan soldiers. They were, however, cautious with the furnishings – especially the soldiers of the Rhönen.

Clarisa, Draagh and Bagatelle sat at a small breakfast counter watching the soldiers eat dinner, when Clarisa noticed something odd.

“Draagh, these boys consumed a great deal of alcohol before crossing the street for dinner. Why does it appear they are all sober now? This place should smell like a brewery.”

“A simple alcohol-purging cantus at the front door, my dear granddaughter. Quite simple, indeed.”

“Well, that was smart. I’d like to know how to install some of those on Azul once we’ve taken care of business. And speaking of taking care of business, have you mapped out our portals from Vera Base to the predetermined locations I earlier requested?” Bagatelle was all business, all the time, and he was never more serious about getting things in order.

“Yes, my dear Luigi. May I ask if you have determined who your group leaders might be?”

Bagatelle nodded his head while he took a bite of an empanada, the chosen meal for the evening.

“Yes. I’ll be going to New Sydney, Max and Jennie are going to Portlandia, and Krynos is going to Buenos Aires.”

Draagh gave the admiral an odd glance, not liking the choice of locations.

“My dear boy, might I ask why Max and Jennie shall not be going to their home country, but instead to a place filled with pacifists? Do you lack faith in their abilities?”

“I know for certain that Max and Jennie will not wantonly murder those in their target location. The other teams… I am not so sure. Aside from this, once they have captured the ports, local law enforcement and occupy City Hall they will move over the New Sydney to accompany me into the Capitol area. Krynos will encounter resistance in Argentina, but we are sending a massive group of Azul military with him. I only hope he doesn’t go into a berserker rage.”

“No, my boy. I shall accompany my old friend and make sure he does not wantonly slaughter the innocent. We wish to perform this operation as cleanly as possible, with minimal bloodshed, am I not correct?” said Draagh.

“Yeah, especially now we have the media on our side,” said Bagatelle. “They’ll pump out the right information and keep all of the citizenry in their home.”

“Except for gen vamps. They’ll run around all crazy and need to be eliminated,” added Clarisa.

“Correct, and it will provide us with a…”

“A… culling opportunity? Yes, I believe that is what we would call it, Luigi. At one time they were a necessary part of the ecosystem, so their fates were intertwined with the rest of the humanity.”

“Okay, I’m ready to hit the rack. Let’s put these guys to bed. They have a busy day tomorrow.”

 

Max and Michael found a rather massive nest of Vrol in the south-central area of Los Angeles. Many of the industrial buildings in the area had been coated with what appeared to be an organic layer of paint or extra protection. It wasn’t enough to keep them out, but they refrained from entering, using their considerable magic skills to send in small, invisible camera drones which showed web-like areas where the putrid creatures slept. They appeared to be nocturnal, and Max mad a mental note that they might not function well during daylight hours if they ever made it to Azul.

“Hey Pops, check out the middle of the warehouse. See that tall construct? Now scan the electromagnetic spectrum and watch what happens,” said Max, looking into a large building via his drone.

“It appears that they are receiving some sort of signal, my son. Shall we follow it?”

“Straight up. Race ya!”

The two rocketed out of the atmosphere, easily eclipsing Mach 8, surprised to see what they should have noticed long before. A badly-damaged Brood Carrier maintained orbit, still providing an energy signal to the various Vrol nests below.

“So that’s how they maintain their psionic armor,” exclaimed Max. “Should we destroy the ship right now and be done with it?”

“No, Max.”

“But… why not? Don’t you care about the people down below? I do! They’re my friends!”

As the two floated in the vacuum of space, Michael put his hand on Max’s shoulder while looking at him with a warm, yet serious gaze.

“Did I not inform you that we in positions of power must make decisions that would seem illogical to normal beings? I mean, yes, we could decimate the Vrol here and now in this timeline, but the truth is, Max, that they are an embedded part of this ecosystem. They hunt, cull, and help to maintain the population. Their teeth provide currency for the myriad of denizens here. They are all in this together, Max. We cannot interfere in such a manner.”

“Okay, I understand. I guess. Let’s get back. We found a nest so this is where the soldiers can train.”

 

Max sat on Dons’ private couch, relishing in the music performed by Lennie’s band. They were playing a lush, rhythmic beat, accompanied by synthesizers and distorted guitars. Lennie’s pregnant wife, Jellie, was using her substantial voice to add to the arrangement. Once they were done, Lennie made a bee-line to Max, sitting down next to his friend.

“Heya Maxie! Good ta see ya, mate!”

“Hi Lennie, same here. How’s Jellie doing?”

“Getting big. Little Max will be healthy and happy.”

“I’m sure he will be. Anyway, we’re only here for a short while, but I’ll make it so you can send me a message when he’s born. Jen and I’d love to meet the little fellow.”

“Max,” said the mellow vampire, “I got ahold of a history book, and there was something called godparents. Anyway, I was wondering if you and your wife would agree to be little Max’s godparents. It seems like a ceremonial thing, nothing formal, ya know.”

Max smiled and nodded his head. “You bet, Lennie. It would be our honor.”

Max, you do realize that the duty of godparents is to take charge of the child in case of the death of the parents, right?” Jennie thought out to her husband over their shared comm.

I know, sweetie. That’s what friends are for.”

Chapter 14 – Raid

 

Four a.m.

A massive group of lycan soldiers from three very different worlds stood in formation, their commanding officer, Luigi Bagatelle inspecting them for any irregularities. Accompanying the admiral were Max, Jennie, Draagh, Michael and the newly arrived Gabriel and Jessica, the latter along to assist in pointing out the weak spots on Vrol necks.

This was to a slaughter-in-training. While Draagh and his sons were initially reticent to wantonly disrupt the balance of the local Vrol population, it would soon recover. The most important part of the exercise was to train soldiers how to kill Vrol in case they made it to Azul, which in itself was a waiting game. The side slip drive capabilities on Azul’s massive naval carriers were still inaccessible to the military, thanks to Len Johnson’s tinkering. Although they were making headway in the project, they were developing contingencies for alternate scenarios. It was smart, effective planning.

Bagatelle walked out to the troops and announced the beginning of the exercises.

“Troops, we are here for critical training, as you all well know. We are slipping out south by southeast, the location of the nest too far to go on foot. This shall be facilitated by Michael, Gabriel, Max and Draagh. We’ll go in small groups, so stick together. The termination point is four kilometers away from the nest, so there will be ample Vrol activity in the area. Remember your briefings, keep your wits about you and good hunting.” Bagatelle walked off to the side, allowing Max to address the troops.

“Men, please remember – this is not a competition to see who can kill the most. Pick a target, freeze it, and kill it. There is a natural order here and we already run the risk of misbalancing it, so we’re in and out. Understand?”

“Sir! Yes, sir!” the entire mass cried out in unison. Max got a kick out of being in command, and even though he was technically beneath Bagatelle this was his world – and he knew how to kill Vrol.

Draagh and his offspring spread out to four corners of the regiment, where they split off into four companies, each going with their Primulus.

 

The mass of lycan soldiers appeared in what used to be a large parking area, and they weren’t quiet – at all. In fact, their ruckus attracted a small group of Vrol fliers and some ground bugs. As they targeted the lycans for attack, unwittingly sealing their own fates, the men spread out breaking down into battalions, and then into companies, followed by platoons of specialized small groups of twenty soldiers each. Two platoons with shoulder-launched surface to air missiles took a center position and started to eliminate Fliers. The missiles functioned flawlessly, decimating the creatures instantly.

G, watch the ground bugs every time one of our missiles takes out a flier – they’re disoriented. They’re connected to each other, so we’ll need to use that to our advantage,” informed Max, using his command comm channel.

Max, I can’t see that happening, being on the ground. Dammit – I’m so used to being on the bridge of a ship. How can I --"

Before Bagatelle could say another word he was suspended one hundred meters above the fight, Max at his side. Looking down he could barely see a transparent sheen – some sort of force field Max had created for him to stand on.

“Whoa! I don’t want to fall, Max,” cautioned Bagatelle.

“Don’t worry, Cuñado. You aren’t going anywhere. You’re actually in a bubble.”

The troops were working together as effective units, and both Max and Bagatelle were pleased with their performance. Max moved them around to see the fight from different angles, and at the same time making sure no Vrol fliers snuck up on them.

The two listened to the soldiers communicate as each one made his kill. They were doing precisely as instructed, back and base of the neck. Everything was going along swimmingly until they heard some odd chatter going on over the comm.

What was that?”

“I know! It was small, but… wow! It just took out a bug!”

“What the hell is it? One of those cat people?”

“No, it’s lycan. I can smell it. And it… also… smells like… bubble bath!

“Oh crap, she’s in so much trouble. Come on, G, we’re going down,” said Max, as he slipped himself and the Admiral to ground level. Max instantly found Jennie, who had been working with a small group of her special forces from the Rhönen. Pulling her off to the side, he asked desperately, “Jen, did you leave Lili with my mom?”

Before Jennie could answer, they both heard Liliana’s small voice howl out in victory, and turning around, saw her standing on the burnt-out carcass of an ancient automobile, sword hoisted into the air.

 

“That’s the way you do it, bitches! Three! I killed three! Yeah!”

 

Who is the little girl?”

“I dunno! But she kicks ass!”

“That is the Gunnarssons’ daughter. She is one of ours! Of the Rhönen!”

 

Max shot over, flying to Liliana’s position, and scooping her off the top of the car, disappeared with a light popping sound.

 

Standing in the restaurant of the hotel, Max looked down at his daughter. His precocious, disobedient daughter, who happened to be a formidable warrior in her own right.

“Liliana, who said you could go on this training mission?”

“Papi, no one said I could not go,” she responded, wearing a face of pure innocence.

Michael slipped Jennie into the hotel and immediately ported out, leaving the mother to run to her family. Jennie practically tackled Liliana, grabbing the girl and hugging her tightly.

“Why? Why did you do that? You were brought here to visit and get away from the castle, not go into a potentially deadly situation! Lili! Answer me!”

The little girl gave her mother a meek look, and then simply said, “I only had one kill and needed to stay ahead of the troops.”

“Max, wherever there’s action Liliana’s is in another timeline, another planet – I don’t care. Another galaxy. Leave her in the Hub,” yelped Jennie.

“I agree. Liliana, you’re grounded.”

“What? But why? That sucks! I killed three Vrol!”

Max looked down at his lovely child and quietly said, “For making poor choices.”

“Max, I’ll get her up to your mom. You go ahead and get the teams back,” said Jennie, taking Liliana’s hand and dragging her toward the stairs. Max was gone in a flash, but as soon as he left she looked down at the little girl.

“Three? You got three?”

Liliana smiled and nodded her head.

Jennie hesitated for a moment, trying to not show her pride, and then said, “Girl power! But never again, understand?”

“Yes, Mami.”

 

The teams extracted Vrol teeth and collected them in a large bucket before starting to go back in small groups. Their work was done, and every soldier had at least one kill under his belt. However, the only one to have killed three was the young Gunnarsson. Liliana’s tally rested at four, counting the one she had inadvertently killed during her first trip to PAH.

Once everyone was back on Santa Monica Blvd. in front of Seven Sins the troops lined up for morning chow. Clarisa had determined that breakfast burritos would be the easiest meal to serve in the field, as they could only fit a portion of the soldiers in the hotel’s restaurant at a time.

Soldiers sat outside on benches, some discussing the morning’s activities, and more than a few talking about Liliana and her lightning speed. The Rhönen lycans seemed especially pleased, and more than willing to recount her tale to their otherworldly counterparts. Liliana – the young orphan, her birth parents so tragically taken from her on the full moon. The disobedient little girl who saved Krynos’ castle, then claimed by Jennie, who proposed to Max to bring the three together as a family. No one believed Jennie had proposed to Max, choosing to assume it was the other way around.

Michael brought a burrito up to his granddaughter, intent on having a talk with her. He had taken to the young girl, and only wished for her safety and well-being. Entering the spacious master suite, he saw her sitting on a couch, looking out of the picture window and watching the crowds below.

“Liliana, I brought you something to eat. May I sit with you?”

“Hello, Grandfather. Of course! Did you hear? I killed three Vrol this morning.”

“Yes, I heard. You have skills beyond your few years.”

Liliana’s face lit up after hearing that from her grandfather, but then noticed he maintained a look of sadness.

“Grandfather, why do you look unhappy?”

“Because you took an unnecessary risk.”

“Life is risk, grandfather. It is what makes it all worth living.”

“Necessary risks, child. Not unnecessary ones. What you did was brave, but foolish.”

“Why foolish, Grandfather?”

“Because you did it for pride.”

“Pride?”

“Liliana, tell me… what are the seven deadly sins? I know they have been taught to you.”

Liliana thought for a moment, and then blurted out, “Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride… oh… pride.”

“Yes. Liliana, none of us are perfect. I have been alive for eons, and have erred much in the past. However, while I am here I am making it a point to assure that you grow up to be a happy, productive adult. You have a long life ahead of you. Please, do not ever do that again. Can you imagine your parents’ faces if something were to happen to you?”

“They would be sad, I imagine.”

“Now, let me ask you… how would you feel if your mother died?”

“Mami? She is too strong. She will not die.”

Michael waved his hand, conjuring an infoscreen that displayed a ground-level playback of when Jennie noticed Liliana was in the middle of the fight. She turned and looked around frantically for her daughter, and while she did so a ground Vrol came up behind her. It had nearly used its pinschers to snap Jennie’s neck when it disintegrated and fell into a pile of ashes. The vid showed Michael, hand outstretched, behind where the bug was only a second before. He had acted barely in time to save Jennie’s life. Michael froze playback and looked at Liliana, who continued to stare at the screen in horror.

“Your mother almost died today, and she knows not. This is your fault, Liliana. Your mother nearly died because she was distracted by your irresponsible actions.”

Michael stood up, waved off the display and exited the room without another word. He knew she would never tell her mother what she had seen. He also knew she would never do something as stupid as that ever again.

 

Oh shit, I had better cut it out.

 

The following morning Draagh called on Liliana, not only to see how she was doing, but also to let her know he was going to retrieve her friends who were born and raised only thousands of miles to the north on that same world. Tommy and Janie were good children, and could not be punished due to Liliana’s manipulative actions. He was to bring them to their now-empty village where they could grab whatever they liked.

“Good morning, Grandfather. Would you like to join me for breakfast?” Liliana asked, her voice completely devoid of any guilt for her actions the day prior.

“Certainly, my dear. As long as it isn’t one of your famous lycan smoothies.”

Liliana giggled softly and shook her head. Making a blended concoction of rabbits and rats was a stunt she pulled, months earlier, to see who had the strongest constitution. Plus, she wanted to razzle Dons, knowing he was a mere normal. Of course, Draagh knew this, and delighted in her sense of humor, knowing it would be the one thing that helped her to retain a tenuous grip on her humanity when things went for the worse.

The two sat at the kitchen’s breakfast counter and ate eggs, bacon (unheard of in that world) and sourdough toast, a favorite of the ancient Primulus. The silence was almost overwhelming as they enjoyed their breakfasts, Draagh peering at the young girl out of the corner of his eye periodically. After what seemed like an eternity (for her), Liliana turned to her great grandfather and said, “I acted irresponsibly. What I did could have resulted in Mami’s death and I feel like shit.”

Draagh felt his face pull back awkwardly. He had expected Liliana to say something regarding her actions the day prior, but never something on that scale. She was showing true remorse. Not Liliana remorse, where she would make everyone believe she is sorry for her actions. The child was truly affected.

“Why do you say that, my dear?” asked the old mage.

“I cannot say, truly,” she responded, “but I had a discussion with Grandfather Michael and he showed me the error of my ways.”

 

I wonder what he said to her.

 

My son, may I have a moment?

Yes, father?

I am with Liliana. She will not say, but she has certainly suffered some form of regret, and I believe it is your doing.”

Oh yes. I told her Jennie was almost killed during the training exercise.

You what?!?

I modified a vid, making it appear Jennie was about to be killed due to Liliana’s distractions.”

Draagh stopped for a moment, doing all he could to keep the young girl at his side from realizing he was having an off-room conversation with someone else.

Why would you do that?”

“Better to have her believe it almost happened than to mourn with her if it truly did.”

“Perhaps you are correct, my son. Very well. Your secret remains safe with me.”

 

“Liliana, I am sure Michael had every right and reason to tell you what you needed to hear. Just please, I need for you to be obedient during these difficult times. It is best for all involved.”

“Yes Grandfather. I shall.”

“Now, that being said, would you like to go to Saxman with your friends Tommy and Janie?”

“Oh yes, Grandfather! Are they to come here?”

“We’re already here, Lili,” said Max, who had silently slipped in behind the two, with the Williams twins in tow.

“Hey Lili!” said Tommy, with Janie smiling and waving with equal enthusiasm.

“Hi Tommy and Janie! Or Janie and Tommy, depending on which one is able to vanquish the other in hand-to-hand combat!”

The twins gave Liliana an odd stare. They really cared for their friend, but her verbal utterances were indeed odd at times.

“Hey, how about friends? Is that okay?” asked Tommy.

“Quite excellent, friends.”

Max walked off to the side with Draagh, wanting to ask a favor.

“Hey Pops, can you take them? I’m really up to my eyeballs with these guys, and it appears they had a betting pool going on for the highest number of kills. Unfortunately, Liliana ruined the odds, so there’s a lot of infighting.”

“So they do fight after all, my boy?”

“Over money? Yeah, you bet.”

“I shall transport the youths to Saxman and do whatever is necessary, young Max. Do not fret. They are safe with me.”

“Thanks, I appreciate it,” said Max, right before he slipped out of sight.

 

###

 

Liliana, Tommy and Janie went bounding through the plush, spongy southeast Alaskan grass, into the now-abandoned Saxman village of the twins’ birth. Looking around they only saw vacant buildings and totem poles. The residents had been extremely careful and had left no refuse behind, even though it was a world they would never return to. It was simply their way.

“What can we take? There’s nothing left!” Liliana exclaimed to the twins.

“Mr. Draagh, our entire history is here. Can’t we preserve it somewhere? Maybe take it to our new home? It’ll only rot here,” pleaded Janie.

The ancient Primulus winked at the twins and raised his arms. Suddenly, with a flash, the entire village was empty. The totem poles, the main lodge and the housing – all gone.

“It is in safe storage, children, for when you have located your new home on a new world. We shall then bring it back.”

“Thank you Mr. Draagh!” the children rang out in unison.

Chapter 15 – Together

 

“Has anyone lost his mind yet?” asked Luigi Bagatelle, while he looked through the one-way mirror at the small dorm in the underground base on Vera. There were twelve soldiers from the Rhönen Dominion, as well as equivalent numbers from Japan and Alaska. It was a cruel, yet necessary experiment. If allied forces were to start slaughtering each other on the battlefield they would be doing the Vrol’s job for them. Their only known weakness was money – they would fight over anything to do with money. Once this was discovered all manner of betting and wagering was banned.

“No, G. Aside from gambling, everything looks good. In fact, the Samurais have been teaching the other troops to play Go, a popular board game,” said Max, as he looked out over the dorm room, feeling a bit creepy for doing so.

“Well, let’s give them another 24 hours and then we’ll go to the next training phase. Also, we have a full moon on Earth in four days. We’ll need to determine who maintains sapience, if any at all.”

Bagatelle and Max had both quickly graduated to being uncaged during full moons, mostly thanks to Max’s assassin phase he acquired while stranded in Hollywood. Draagh created an inoculation from Max’s blood, which enabled inactive lycans to become active, and as an added benefit, maintain sapience during the full moon. Practicing during Max’s months of absence, Jennie was near graduating from her cage when they finally found him, but her inoculation brought her to the next level. While Max and Bagatelle were borderline violent, Jennie could practically do trigonometry in Phase 3 form.

“Hey, how are my boys doing?” Jennie asked sweetly, her low, sultry voice and slight dega accent making the two men melt a bit, each in his own way. Bagatelle adored his sister, and had secretly protected her for years, keeping her under his command while guarding the secret of their familial relationship, while she and Max met under less than ideal circumstances and eventually fell in love.

“Hey hun, we’re just making sure our troops don’t murder each other,” said Max.

“They seem to be doing well, Hermanita,” added Bagatelle.

“Well, to tell you the truth, they look kinda bored,” said the gorgeous lycan.

“Yeah, they do, baby. Do you think we should stir up the pot and see how they behave?”

“Oh gawd Max, that’s cruel… I like how you think,” she said.

“It may be a necessary experiment. Perhaps we should confer with Draagh before attempting to do so,” suggested Bagatelle.

“Agreed. Be right back,” said Max, right before he popped out of sight.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that, G. He just… disappears.”

“Jen, don’t worry, he’ll never, ever leave you again. Plus, he has a tracker – he can’t get lost.”

“I know, but I occasionally have nightmares. I am looking at him, and he’s smiling. Then the world starts spinning around and everything goes black.”

Bagatelle put his arm around his little sister’s shoulder as he looked out over the dorm. He understood her anguish, and only wished the best for them, but could really do nothing about her nightmares.

“Draagh says there’s nothing else we can do. They should be fine,” stated Max, as he popped back to where he was only a minute before. “So, Jen, I’m gonna help Liliana with her algebra homework. You wanna come back with me?”

“Um, I don’t know, sweetie. Maybe I’ll stay here with G and go over inventory.”

“I have that handled, Jennie. You should get back. I can call Draagh for a lift back home when I’m done,” offered Bagatelle.

They’re only a few equations, baby. Then she’s off to bed, Max said over their private comma channel.

You mean, we’ll have alone time?

Yup. Give me 30 minutes with her and I’m all yours.

“Brother, I’m going back with Max. I’ll see you in the morning,” said Jennie, while trying to suppress a guilty grin.

 

###

 

Max barely had the chance to create a sound-absorbing cantus in his bedroom before Jennie had dive-tackled him onto their giant, four-poster bed. She was already stripped down to her bra and panties by the time he shut the door, and now she straddled him, moving her hips back and forth.

“Baby, I’ve got a surprise for you,” said the smoking-hot lycan female. She leaned forward, with her large, dark breasts practically bursting out of her brassiere. Max smiled and blinked, a silent, minor cantus causing the front snap of it to come undone, allowing her ample bosom to practically (and conveniently) fall out onto his face. Leaning up slightly, he eagerly took a globe into his mouth and began to work it like a champion, his tongue lashing across the areola, causing it to swell with excitement – and that wasn’t the only thing that swelled. Jennie gasped with delight as she pushed them together with her hands and mashed her hot, sultry flesh into his face while continuing to grind her hips. The two frequently made love, and whenever they did it was an experiment in lust, with the young couple constantly arriving at new sensuous destinations. The first time they were together they were both virgins, although the woman had much more experience with foreplay. Max, on the other hand, had barely kissed any girls, but there was no indication of lack of experience as of late. Max was a beast, and Jennie an insatiable siren. Together they burned at least 20,000 calories a night.

Jennie slowly pulled her breasts back from Max’s tender attentions and, lowering herself to his face level, cupped his cheeks with her hands. “In the shower, you stud,” she hummed, her dusky voice exuding sensuality.

“The shower, baby? What do you have in mind?”

“Upside down, in hot water. It’s an idea I’ve had for a while.”

 

An hour later the young couple relaxed in their massive bed, both worn out and giggling hysterically, totally and eternally in love with each other. They had completely destroyed their shower area. Shampoo bottles, loofa sponges and soap bars were all over the floor, and water had spilled out into the living quarters. A towel comically spun around in circles, hooked onto the ceiling fan that perpetually rotated in their quarters, while sending a fresh breeze onto their naked bodies. They had even overturned and shattered their chest of drawers during their time alone, but Max had easily repaired it with a simple cantus before snuggling with his wife on the giant mattress. Jennie was pressed up against Max’s side, her shapely leg resting comfortably on his rock-hard stomach, while he gently caressed her perfect, round posterior, running his fingers softly up her back, tracing along the curvature of her spine. He loved everything about his wife – her appearance was amazing, but he mostly loved her heart and mind. She was the perfect woman, and he was the luckiest man in the galaxy. Giving her butt a light swat, he caused her to yelp.

“What was that for, Captain Stamina?” she asked with a sexy groan.

“It’s just so nice I had to tap it, baby. So – shower, upside down. Great idea. What’s next?”

“Can you create an anti-gravity cantus? Like, so we can float?”

The woman had a penchant for kinkiness, and Max loved every second of it.

“Mmhmm. Great idea. Wanna try it… now?”

“Oh no, baby. You wore me out. You’re such an animal, Maxie!”

“This animal is all yours, sweetie.”

Te quiero tanto, Max. Thank you for loving me. I was so mean to you for the longest time, and yet you stood by my side, protected me, saved me and never, ever gave up.”

The woman’s gaze penetrated his soul, her cocoa brown eyes reflecting the soft moonlight outside their window. Max Gunnarsson still didn’t understand why such a gorgeous and amazing creature would love him, but he was thankful. It was true he had dedicated himself to her, but that was his nature – he cared for others. The two had started as enemies, became friends and then mated for life, as was the lycan way.

“Jen, do you remember when we first fought Ryder and I killed Ladros?”

“Oh gawd, of course. Why do you ask, baby?”

“Well, do you remember when we were playing around and we rolled around on the ground and I tried to kiss you?”

“Yes, yes I do. Why, Max? What’s up?”

“I dunno. I was just wondering why you didn’t kiss me. It really doesn’t matter now, but I’ve been curious when you actually realized you loved me. No big deal.”

Jennie leaned in and gently nibbled on Max’s earlobe, flicking her tongue delicately, while her sweet breath sounded off into his ear.

“Baby, I was afraid, not of you, but of me. I had never, ever felt the way I was feeling about anyone the way I was feeling about you at that moment. I wanted to kiss you sooo badly. I really did, but I was confused. Plus, you’d just lopped a guy’s head off. But now that I’ve said that, aren’t you glad I waited?”

Max thought for a moment and decided he would never ask her about the mechanics of their growing relationship again. It was a stupid thing to do. It was ridiculous because they were meant to be, and there was no sense in agonizing over minutiae. He just had one single questions left before he would let it rest forever.

“Yeah baby. You’re right. I am glad. Can I just ask one more thing, and I promise I’ll never ask again? Shit, I sound so insecure.”

“Oh my god, love, you can ask me as many times as you like. I really don’t mind. I think it’s sweet. What would you like to know?”

“When was the moment when you knew, one hundred percent, that you loved me?” Max looked at his wife, his lover, his eternal flame, bearing an expectant gaze, only wishing for honesty, and she responded without hesitation.

“In Vladros’ dungeon, after I was kidnapped. When you handed me my katana. I felt an energy surge through my body. No… wow, it was actually before you handed me the sword. I saw you, your face. Your beautiful, angelic face and at that moment I knew I wanted to see it every day, every morning, every night, for the rest of my life. Then, when you handed me the sword it was almost as if I had… signed a contract with my soul. I was yours, baby.”

Max smiled and tried to keep from tearing up. He knew she loved him, but her explanation was more than he expected. However, what came next absolutely blew him away.

“But when did you know you loved me, Max? Crushes are one thing, but when… did you really know?”

Max always knew. He just never thought she would ask him, so low was his sense of self when he compared himself to his wife.

“The first time you called me by my given name, love – during our mock battle. You called me Max. I knew, at that moment, that I was yours forever, even if you had chosen another.”

“Max! That’s kinda kinky!”

“I don’t mean it that way, Jen. What I mean is that I was dedicated to your happiness and well-being forever, once you had considered me as a person by using my first name. From that moment on your life was more important to me than my own. That’s my definition of love.”

Jennie’s eyes grew wide as she stared deeply into those of her husband. Max’s love for her had surprisingly matched her own. The young hybrid had no idea the depth of Jennie’s love for him. He was clueless in that aspect, as she was of his at the same time.

“Sweetie, let’s put it this way. I would throw myself onto a sword to preserve your life.”

Max looked at his life-mate, flabbergasted, but brought back his own response.

“Jennie – if you did that, I would use that same sword to take my own life.”

“Then, we are as one,” she said.

“Yup. A 43rd century Romeo and Juliet,” he sighed.

Jennie was his reason for being – his essence. Jennifer Marie Escalante de Gunnarsson was his life’s meaning. Well, she and Liliana. With everything that had happened to the young couple – Max’s tragic disappearance, his fortunate rescue and now the upcoming war, he had still not discussed something with her – having a baby. They loved their adopted daughter immensely, but he wanted more. Once the Vrol had been vanquished he wanted to have another child.

“Love, how would you feel about having a baby once we’ve taken care of business?” asked Max, giving Jennie a hopeful look. He had no idea what to expect. Jennie was still a bit arrogant about her appearance, and although she was lycan and had massive healing capabilities, she might have believed a pregnancy would affect her proportions. However, she just stared in his eyes for a few seconds before rolling over on top of him.

“Liliana will need a little brother or sister. I’m hoping it’s a boy,” cooed the beautiful dega.

“And I want another girl,” replied Max.

“Another girl? Don’t you want a male to carry your legacy and surname?”

Max gazed in her eyes and kissed her deeply. After softly running his tongue over hers for a few moments he pulled back and smiled. “Baby, I love being surrounded by beautiful, amazing women. And about the surname thing – if you really think about it, it’s only a way of identifying someone. It’s not even my genetic surname. Hell, I don’t even know if I have one.”

“Oh my god, you’re right! I never thought about that. We should ask your father about it sometime.”

 

Vera Base, Azul System

 

Seated at a tabletop console, Josh Mannheim carefully analyzed, on four vid displays, the 36 lycans locked up in a stifling dorm room. He had just given the automated food dispensers a command to send lunch to the soldiers, and he thought he would mix it up this time. Josh was a computer guy by nature, and had performed a lot of tasks for the military (before his defection), pushing computer applications to their limits. He sought to break systems, and this time it was no different – except for the fact that he was looking to break soldiers. He needed to find and eliminate their weak points.

He sent a lunch of bok choi and sea cucumber. He was sure the Samurai would enjoy the lunch, but he wanted to see the Haida and Rhönen responses. They had tried virtually every other way to antagonize the teams, but had failed on every attempt. The only thing they had yet to do was to give them all a bunch of alcohol and see if a brawl broke out.

Watching intently, he saw the Japanese dig into their plates, while the others looked on with some trepidation. Then a curious thing happened; a Samurai walked over to a perplexed Haida and sat down, explaining the odd-looking food. The Haida took a bite and let the flavor waft around in his mouth, growing a pleasant look on his face. He then lightly elbowed a Rhönen soldier to his left and nodded at the plate. The soldier took a bite and chewed a bit, his face changing to a pleasant expression. Suddenly, everyone was laughing and eating heartily.

 

Compatibility was no longer an issue. These men would fight and protect each other with their lives.

 

“Hey baby, how’s the experiment coming along?” asked Josh’s wife.

“Hey love, all good. Been trying to get these guys to start beating the crap out of each other, but it seems blood is thicker than water.”

“Huh? They’re related?” asked the woman.

“Oh no, baby. It’s just that they’re all lycans. They have an amazing genetic connection. I have a feeling everything’s gonna be alright.”

Josh’s wife, Becky, had brought him lunch as she usually did every day. Josh was now a full lieutenant, having been given a brevet promotion by Admiral Bagatelle, and was assisting with various scientific and analysis aspects of operations on Vera, while Becky was mainly worked with data entry. She had been building a database of everyone involved in the rebellion, which was critical to the effort. The database would then be converted and made available via the Hub and through IFF (identification friend or foe) eyepieces. These eyepieces, mostly in the form of contact lenses (but some that resembled sunglasses), would show the users who were friends and who were enemies, as well as the heat signatures and genetic backgrounds of those they viewed. This was so they could identify genetic vampires, Vrol (for later), mages and normals.

“Well, I brought you choripan and kraut. You really like sauerkraut, don’t you, baby?”

“It’s an acquired taste, hun, but yeah. I like the flavor.”

“Cool. Just… brush your teeth before going to bed,” laughed the young lieutenant female.

The two had been turned to lycans upon their arrival to the Rhönen Dominion. It wasn’t a planned thing, but Max thought it would be a great idea, and a just reward for those so dedicated to their efforts. They would be practically immortal, but further, they had become much more physically attractive than they had previously would have ever been.

They had also made intensive efforts in learning Castilian Spanish, as they planned to retire in Nueva Argentina once the Vrol war was won. Of course, Becky’s friendship with Jennie was strong as ever, even though the wife of the hybrid was kept busy training troops in the Rhönen and raising her precocious young daughter. However, Becky felt a special connection to the young Gunnarsson, the girl even calling her tía (aunt), which made the woman feel quite special.

“Josh, do you think we’re going to win this war… really?”

“Yeah, of course hun, why do you ask?”

“I dunno. Sometimes I feel so disconnected. Sometimes it’s like there’s not gonna be a war at all.”

“Love, that’s you listening to Johnson and his bullshit and you know it.”

Becky grinned lightly and nodded. “Yeah, you’re right. The vamp’s a total puke.”

“Agreed. Hey! Mr. Draagh offered to disguise us so we could have a night out on the town anywhere we like. What do you say?”

“With you, baby? Anywhere. How about a double date with Max and Jennie? Hell, we could go to a different timeline, anywhere in the galaxy!”

“Serious? That would be way cool. I’d love to get to know the Captain a bit more, anyway.”

Josh quickly wolfed down his sandwich and gave his wife a sly grin. “Um, I think I’m ready to brush my teeth. How about a lunch break?”

Becky grabbed her husband’s hand and practically dragged him out of his chair, making a beeline to their private quarters.

“Use some mouthwash too, sweetie.”

Chapter 16 – Attack!

 

Admiral Luigi Bagatelle had waited far too long, and his most trusted senior officer knew it. Jennie, actually. Max was still reticent about attacking Azul System so soon. They had only recently brought together dozens of troops from the Rhönen Dominion, Saxman and Tokyo. It was certain they would not try to murder each other, but he was still queasy about their ability to actually function together on the field of battle. Azul system had just experienced a double full moon, so they had five weeks before the next phase 3 dilemma. Bagatelle figured if they couldn’t unify the Federal government in that amount of time they had no chance against the Vrol anyway. They had already tricked Coby Worthington, making him believe he would avoid his change the phase 3, but instead locked him in a cage in a hidden location on Azul and observed him.

 

He made a very docile werewolf, and remained calm in his cell, licking himself repeatedly. However, he did have near-sentience and would probably be able to roam free sooner than most.

 

“Max, we have to move. Now.”

“Admiral, I agree with you one hundred percent, but I guess Max here is getting a little scared,” said Jennie.

“I am not getting scared, Jen. It’s just. Well, dammit. I’m a scientist, and I’m binary – black and white. Either things work or they don’t.”

“Max, you need to understand,” said Bagatelle, “when entering into the theater of war, nothing is for sure – like one of your equations. There’s always room for error. That’s why you have to fight. If it were for sure, no one would die. One side would win and the other would merely surrender.”

Max looked at his wife, and then at his commanding officer and sighed deeply, his head lowering slightly as if in resignation. He knew he was wrong. But this was the new Max. People had died due to his failure to act in the past. He wanted people to live.

“Okay. I’m with you. Plus, my wife would kick my ass if I kept arguing.”

“You know it, sweetheart.”

“And I’m your commanding officer. Even though you could probably melt my brain with a thought.”

“Brother, he could do much worse. Trust me.”

Basta! Yes! I have awesome brain-melting powers, but I would never do that to G. Admiral, what are your orders?”

Bagatelle smirked and looked at his little sister and her husband, knowing he was in the best of company. In his previous life, the one before getting involved with Max, he would have never allowed his subordinates to converse with him in such a manner, but things had changed. They had changed immensely, and he was now preparing to fight for Mankind’s right to exist. He just had to remove a bunch of self-serving jerkoffs first.

“We need to mobilize and take over the rest of the military. We have nearly all the Navy, but only fifty percent of ground forces. Still, I think they’ll cooperate when they see our impressive off-world contingency. And, can you tell me – how do you melt brains?”

“Microwave radiation cantus. Didn’t you ever take Home Ec class in secondary school?” asked Max.

“Actually I did. I got an A.”

“It was my only C,” added Jennie.

“Oh, that explains it,” responded the lycan captain, only to receive a glare from his gorgeous wife, who, if she wanted to, could have married the richest man in the galaxy and would have never had to worry about cooking for her entire life. But instead, married the son of the Taxiarch and was made near-immortal. Good choice.

“Baby! Your empanadas are super good. I especially like the ones with spinach and cheese,” pleaded Max, knowing he had done a good job of pissing Jennie off.

“Yeah, whatever,” she said. “Brother, tell us what you need and we’re on it.”

“Very well. First, we need your grandfather.”

 

###

 

Candles flickered in Draagh’s castle office, providing barely enough light for anyone to see. Except for the fact that three of them were lycans (and one a Primulus) and had excellent night vision.

“So, you believe you are ready to attack the world of your birth and retake your military?”

Draagh wasn’t sure if Bagatelle’s troops were ready, but he could only be along for the ride. He loved humanity, and it was his reason for taking corporeal form, so many eons before. But he wanted them to survive. His sacrifices, his efforts, and everything he had done for them had to lead to victory this time.

“I am more than certain we’re ready. Look, we need to move immediately. Johnson’s disappeared off the grid, and for all we know, everything’s gone to hell in a basket and he’s in hiding. The sooner we get control of the military the sooner we can restore Constitutional rule in the system and move forward.”

“Admiral, I agree with you. Yes, I do agree. So, that being said, how may I assist in your efforts?”

“Draagh, you said you can make massive slip portals for the troops?”

“Mm, yes, I believe I did say that.”

“So, I need four slip locations. Santiago, on Luna, New Sydney, Buenos Aires and Portlandia.”

“Why those four cities, my good Bagatelle?”

"I can answer that easily," stated Jennie. "Santiago is the capital of Luna and the moon's most populated city. New Sydney is the Azul Federal seat, and is located on Oz. Buenos Aires, in Nueva Argentina, is the largest metropolitan area, and Portlandia is a huge seaport in the American continent- and full of the biggest pussies in the entire system! All they care about are indigenous life forms and making life as freaking difficult for themselves as possible, all in the name of some god-forsaken invisible… goddess … or something.”

“Oh yeah. Their belief in the deity called Gaea,” snickered Max.

Draagh’s eyes grew wide, but he recouped, grinned and shook his head.

“Um, so… is there… a… Gaea?’ asked Jennie.

“No, and I would certainly have met such a being before. I can tell you that much, my young granddaughter,” snorted the ancient mage, as he loaded his pipe, while trying to hide an awkward expression.

“They even tried to secede from America about one hundred years ago,” said Max.

“Gawd, that’s right. Didn’t they get partial autonomy until they bankrupted themselves?” asked Jennie.

“Yeah. No one wanted to work,” added Bagatelle.

“So. No holds barred in Portlandia?” asked Jennie, hoping for some fun.

“We’ll send the Samurais there,” said Bagatelle. “They seem to have no compunctions about eliminating their enemies.”

“Oh man, you know, the Portlandiers… erm, the Portlanders, or whatever you call them – they’re really kinda harmless. Why don’t we send the Haidas? They won’t wantonly slaughter the idiots, but will definitely kill the bad ones,” said Max, knowing the target group was mostly lame.

“I can go with that. We could use the Samurais on high-value targets. Ever seen them sneak around?” asked Bagatelle.

“Awesome!” exclaimed Max, now with much more enthusiasm in his voice.

“Oooh, baby! You’re so… ready to go!”

Max grabbed Jennie and pulled her in close, laying a deep kiss on her luscious, plump lips, and immediately causing Bagatelle to complain.

“You two! Get a room! That’s an… order… damn, he’s fast.”

“Yes, my dear boy, he is. In some ways, that is. In others, well, I would have to disagree.”

“Draagh, that’s too much information,” replied Bagatelle, while rolling his eyes.

 

Max and Jennie simply disappeared from sight. But it was the end of the day anyway, and Liliana was having a sleepover in the Haida housing with her friends. Bagatelle went to the castle’s commissary with Draagh to eat dinner, now that everyone had a basic idea of his plan.

“Ok, so I need to personally meet with all of my captains tomorrow. I would have Max take me, but he’s too recognizable. Could I have either Gabriel or Michael be my driver?”

Draagh laughed at Bagatelle’s use of a colloquialism in reference to something much more complex – and ancient in comparison.

“Yes, my son. I believe that either would be more than willing to escort you to your destinations.”

“Excellent. Once I’ve eaten I have to finish my mission dossiers for distribution. I can take the King’s office portal to Vera and use the computers in the base. The two kids Max and Jennie rescued have been extremely helpful with computer ops, programming and database management.”

“Oh, do you mean Josh and Becky? Yes, they are good children. In fact, they are going through the same trials that plague Max and Jennie at this time,” responded the ancient mage, a sparkle of candlelight twinkling from one of his clear, blue eyes.

“Um, plague them? What are you talking about? Jennie’s not sick is she? I mean… Max too. Are they alright?”

Draagh waved a servant over with some food, and then looked down at his large plate of elk and roasted potatoes. Stabbing his fork into the shank, but hesitating slightly he looked over at the young admiral.

“Luigi, have you not noticed how Max and Jennie are frequently disappearing to be together?”

“Yes! And it borders on the annoying. I mean, I know they were apart for six months, but sometimes it’s almost unbearable.”

“It is genetic, my son.”

“Huh?”

“I cannot recall the name they have for it here, but it is a seasonal breeding instinct that affects all lycans.”

“They’re trying to have a baby?” Bagatelle was shocked. Not mortified, but startled. “Jennie can’t have a kid now. We have a lot of battles coming up and…”

“Now, now my boy, worry not. Jennie is, at this time, quite infertile, as is her friend, young Becky. In fact, I have made sure that all female lycans critical to this effort will pass the season without being impregnated. However, that does not prevent them from having fun, and speaking of fun, when was the last time Alicia visited you?”

Bagatelle gave Draagh an odd stare, not knowing how to respond. He took a bite of steaming elk and chomped voraciously before responding.

“Two weeks. Why?”

“You are also affected, and it would calm your frayed nerves immensely if you were to spend the evening with your mate.”

“Now I don’t see where that’s any of your business!”

“Luigi! Do not be a… prude! It is a perfectly natural part of the lycan lifecycle. Now, if you would like, I believe we can provide adequate cover for Alicia so that she may spend the night with you. Please, accept my offer. I would hate to see all of your hard work go to waste over some sexual tension. Once you have accomplished this mission I believe you will be in command of your system’s military again, and will not have to sneak around to be with your beloved.”

Bagatelle looked down, almost sheepishly and cut a potato.

“Okay. Yes, please. I’ve actually been going nuts lately.”

 

###

 

 

“Are you confident in your plan, hun?”

Alicia Vasquez was relaxing comfortably next to Luigi Bagatelle in his massive four-poster bed, smoking a cigarette. She usually enjoyed a smoke after making love, and even though Bagatelle wasn’t a smoker he not only tolerated her occasional vice, he also enjoyed the scent of Sienna tobacco. It wasn’t as acrid as the varietals brought from Earth centuries before. Genetic modifications had made a nearly harmless smoke with a pleasant odor. Bagatelle looked at his fiancé and nodded, but maintained a grim look on his face.

“We should be fine. I’ll tell you, without the assistance of the Rhönen, Haidas and the Samurai this would probably be the most blood ever spilt since we colonized Azul.”

He was referring to the difficult times when Mankind had first reached Azul. Despite previously made agreements, there were many with different ideas and plans, and some genetic vampires were guilty of creating a great deal of distrust in the Exodus leadership. Sporadic fighting occurred, and roughly 15% of the emigrants lost their lives in senseless battles. It took five years before the new Constitution was officially ratified and all violence came to a halt. Still, Bagatelle worried. He loved his worlds and his people, and wanted the reacquisition of Azul Military and Government to be as bloodless as possible.

Chapter 17 – Portals

 

The slip cavern was an awesome sight, and if it had been created by mere mortals it would have easily been considered one of the modern marvels of Azul System. A polished, flat floor and a ceiling of over 300 meters in height, it had a diameter of one kilometer – enough space to assemble many military regiments. Draagh, Michael and Gabriel had worked to make unusually large slip portals for their troops to pour through – surprise would be the element, and would be necessary as the majority of invading forces would be foreign to Azul and would most probably be considered hostile, despite the fact that they were there to liberate the population, not to enslave them.

Draagh surveyed his and his sons’ works – four gleaming slip portals, each ten meters wide by four meters high. They were this large to facilitate some of the vehicular equipment to be utilized by allied Azul military ground forces. The Navy was behind their efforts, and remained in stand-by mode, waiting for Admiral Bagatelle’s command. Overall, he could count on ground and air superiority and encounter only minimal resistance. He desired no resistance at all, as that would equate to no losses on either side, but this was to be a revolution, not a coup. They were to reinstall constitutional rule of law, not engage in a military takeover. He was prepared, however, to temporarily take command of Azul system if the politcos didn’t cooperate, but politicians were generally a cowardly bunch and would acquiesce if the barrel of a gun were pointed at their heads.

The portals were a beautiful sight. They provided a one-way view into their target locations, so anyone in the massive chamber could actually see people milling about on the massive naval base in New Sydney. All four portals went to military installations. Bagatelle demanded this against the advice of others. He felt they would give Azul military the chance to join with the resistance, hopefully avoiding massive bloodshed. On a suggestion from Max, they were going to created massive vid displays in their target locations through which Bagatelle would address Azul military. Immediately following his address his troops would pour into their targets and begin occupation. Each of the portals would be used first in New Sydney, enabling troops to enter and surround any potential opposition, and then once those forces had gone through the portals would have their addresses changed to Buenos Aires, following a similar pattern. Santiago and Portlandia would follow immediately afterwards.

As troops gathered, Max, Jennie and Bagatelle coordinated weapons distribution, with every troop being assigned a stinger pistol, as well as a katana and a tornado rifle. Tornados were not accurate sniper rifles, but more like riot control scatterguns. If all went well, not one should have even had to draw their sword, but in the game of war no one is ever sure.

“Admiral, have you prepared your address for the vid displays?” asked Max, speaking to his commanding officer in formal fashion, as they were in the midst of arriving troops.

“Yes, Captain. In fact, Draagh suggested I record it instead of speaking live. Would you care to opine?”

“I believe that’s a great idea. That way if the base in New Sydney starts to mobilize against your wishes you won’t have to cut your speech short – just go through the portal while you are still on the displays. It’s crucial that they are at least informed, and it may be the one thing that keeps them from fighting against us.”

“Very well. I’ll go record my speech. Oh, and Max? It was a great idea, you making Azul military uniforms for everyone. Once we have assumed control and things settle down we can introduce our foreign allies.”

Max nodded at his brother-in-law and moved off to the side with his beautiful wife, who was looking particularly fantastic in her khaki field uniform with triple commander stripes on her shoulders.

“I’m kinda nervous, Max,” admitted Jennie.

“Why so, love? This is all going to work out. I really believe we have all the bases covered.”

“Well, having G address the bases before we attack is kinda going against all protocols, but we are attempting a bloodless revolution. Besides, anyone stupid enough to engage in a live-fire attack against 500 huge lycans deserves to die.”

Max grinned and nodded, agreeing with his wife. As the looked around at the milling crowd of lycan soldiers, they saw Draagh and Bagatelle leave the chamber, assuming the two were going to record the Admiral’s video. They had to start gathering their own troops soon enough, even though they were to be the last group to exit the chamber. Their target, Portlandia, was assumed to be the location of least resistance, but they couldn’t be sure. They could only follow orders and do their best.

Pops, G, are you guys ready to go?” Max asked via the officers’ comm.

We are done and Luigi shall greet you momentarily, my son.

On my way, Max. Do the troops look ready to go?

Yea, they’re fidgeting a bit – best get going while they’re ready.

Brother, are you sure you don’t want us with your team?” asked Jennie.

Jennie, I need you and Max to secure the base at Portlandia, but slip over to New Sydney once you have done so. If all goes well we shall have a little chat with both houses of Congress this afternoon.”

I’d think you would have wanted to have a pow-wow with the Security Council,” said Max, remembering how the judicial branch had imprisoned him.

“I won’t even give them the time of day, Cuñado,” boomed Bagatelle, having reached Max and Jennie’s location. “So, are you ready?”

Both Max and Jennie nodded their heads as they looked around in awe. Only weeks before they had been refugees, but now commanded forces that would retake their home world.

“My children, as we prepare for the first wave to depart, I would like to inform you of the vid displays. Michael and Gabriel are already in New Sydney to assist with these. They are going to make sure that every video device is coopted and in the main plaza they shall create massive infoscreens to bring Luigi’s message of good tidings.”

 

###

 

Len Johnson was lost in darkness. All he could do was reach out with his mind and attempt to see what was happening. Voices flowed through his mind, which was connected to the Hive. Although blinded to his surroundings, he heard nearby noises, like masses of structures pounding into each other. He could feel the trembling of concussions as unseen construction efforts were under way. He heard odd clicking sounds, and assumed they were the audible voices of nearby insects. He had no regrets as to his actions, but he was trying to shield his mind while he devised a plan to save himself. He was a selfish man, and cared for no one but his immediate family – Ryder, whom he believed to still be alive. His wife had died from a fall some years before – a fall he had instigated. The coroner’s report had initially listed her death as homicide, but after that poor soul was found slaughtered in a back alley in New Sydney, the new coroner updated the death certificate to suicide. Len Johnson merely found her to be annoying, so he had pushed her off a balcony in their estate. Two house servants saw what had happened, but they suffered an air car accident mere minutes after the incident – before they had been able to make a report to the authorities.

Len Johnson was an evil man. He had sold out Mankind in the name of personal power. As he sat in his dark prison of nothingness, he devised a plan.

He would find a way to escape, and stall the Vrol, so he could get to Earth – and safety.

 

But what he didn’t realize was that the Vrol did not have a concept of truth. They fully intended on returning to Earth and again decimating it.

Chapter 18 – Address

 

New Sydney, Oz

 

No one knew what was happening when all of the vid displays in the New Sydney naval base went blank. There was some static, followed by a white screen, and then all saw the attractive and much younger visage of Admiral Luigi Bagatelle, who was wearing a very serious expression. People stopped in their tracks, no matter where they were. Men and women paused in the cafeteria, the main plaza, the base grocery store and even the toilets. Every single soldier and officer knew who they were looking at, and most considered Luigi Bagatelle to be a patriot and excellent commanding officer, not a traitor as he had been accused.

 

“My good men and women of Azul naval forces. This is Admiral Luigi Bagatelle. I have a message of utmost urgency that requires your attention, as well as your cooperation. The people of our worlds currently live in fear. They fear for their families, their homes and their very lives. We have recently seen a change in the form of government in our system. Our elected leaders have chosen to install a tyrannical dictatorship, overturning our beloved Constitution and fancying themselves our professional rulers. This shall not be tolerated and is to be stopped immediately. Councilman Leonard Johnson, now stylizing himself as Chairman, has effectively taken control over not only all branches of the federal government, but also our military, up to a certain point. However, I have managed to regain the trust of the majority of our military leaders. Johnson is a traitor to Azul and is not to be believed. As of this moment, his whereabouts remain unknown, but we have determined he went to rendezvous with those that have been called the Artusians. This name in itself is a lie – the Artusians are not beautiful, angelic beings coming to save Mankind, but are violent insectoid invaders who destroyed Earth shortly after our Exodus to Azul System. This alien race is called the Vrol. The Vrol have one purpose – to kill. They murder entire planets. Our ancestors on Earth have been nearly extinct for hundreds of years, something we only recently discovered. I was imprisoned for bringing the truth of the Vrol to the Security Council, after returning from Earth with proof of their actions. Earth is virtually devoid of humanity, and is just now starting to mend. We should mourn for our cousins, but we haven’t the time.”

 

Vid displays showed imagery of Vrol fliers, ground bugs and centipedes, causing many viewers to shudder in disgust. Imagery and video continued with footage of the Vrol invasion of Earth, displaying a decimated, yet still-recognizable New York skyline, and of the Vrol’s ship-locking encapsulation of Earth.

 

“Working with the resistance movement, we have uncovered and stopped a plot by Johnson where he was retrofitting ancient Exodus barges with faster-than-light drives in a base on Sienna. Johnson has been coordinating with the Vrol, facilitating their unimpeded arrival in exchange for the promise they would never attack Earth again. You know this to be true, as Johnson has enacted stand-down orders to all military vessels, and has put genetic locks requiring his personal live, active DNA on the FTL side space drives on our best ships. Why would he do this? What does he fear? Not the Artusians slash Vrol – they are his allies. He fears us. He has already selected hundreds of citizens to depart our beloved Azul system shortly before the arrival of the Vrol, ensuring their survival – and our deaths. These select, fortunate individuals tend to have very particular genetic markers in common – another thing we have discovered, and something we shall discuss after we have restored Constitutional rule. Now that we have common knowledge of our mutual best interests I am ordering all Azul military to join with us, and together we shall restore freedom and dignity back to our worlds.”

 

###

 

“Where the hell is this feed coming from? This shouldn’t be possible!” screamed Councilman Cristof Milonas, recently appointed to the council without a congressional vote, made possible under Johnson’s new emergency powers. He was a replacement for the unfortunate Councilman Robert Reed, who was one of the few dissenting votes against Johnson’s power play some months earlier. Reed suffered a sad and unexpected death when his air car exploded in midair, and was immediately replaced by someone friendlier to the dictator’s designs. Milonas flipped frantically through every possible feed line, hard and wireless, but was unable to stop Bagatelle’s monologue.

“Councilman, we have also been informed that mysterious, holographic vid displays have appeared and are also playing Rear Admiral Bagatelle’s message,” said a minor tech, who was unwittingly according Bagatelle his current, legal title.

“How dare you call him anything other than traitor, you less-than-nothing,” hissed Milonas. The councilman then pulled a stinger pistol out of his holster and shot the tech point-blank in the forehead. Milonas then took over the tech’s position, standing over the poor fool’s body as if it weren’t even there, while staring at useless displays with his steel-blue eyes.

 

Vera Base, Azul System

 

“In closing, fellow citizens, this is not a military coup – this is the restoration of Constitutional government – something that was stolen from us. It is our birthright.”

Bagatelle continued to glare into the camera, not seeing the reactions of the myriad of military personnel on the bases throughout the system.

Jennie stood off to the side of the massive throngs of troops, worried and hoping that somehow things would be all right. She wasn’t concerned with Portlandia, but she was preoccupied with New Sydney, where her brother was going.

“All troops, prepare to pass through the portal. Once you go through please go to your predetermined destination. Alpha Group, forward!” Bagatelle yelled loudly, his voiced carrying nicely thanks to a cantus provided by Max. The troops started going through, Alpha Group consisting mostly of Azulians, all hoping to see some friendly faces.

Max and Jennie watched an infoscreen with Draagh, grinning when they realized that not only was there no resistance, the crowds were welcoming the invading troops, cheering and throwing confetti.

“Admiral! You are being welcomed! We’re forming Buenos Aires groups now, and we’ll see you in the Capitol,” yelled Max, right before his brother-in-law walked through the gleaming portal to another world.

 

New Sydney, Oz

 

“Sir, we have experienced sporadic small arms fire, but the interlopers were inexplicably taken out by unseen forces. Their heads seem to have exploded.”

Admiral Luigi Bagatelle nodded his head to the leader of Delta Group. He had a pretty good idea who had taken that course of action, but checked in to be certain. He used a private channel on the comm to speak with an Archangel who had a particular knack for making heads explode.

Gabriel, I assume you have taken care of our sniper fire problem?

Yes, Luigi. They have been neutralized.

And, who were they?

Genetic vampires, Admiral.

Very well, please continue. And try to keep one alive for questioning.

Bagatelle switched over to the officers’ channel, intent on keeping his liberation forces pouring through the portals.

Max, send B.A. forces through. We have encountered some small arms fire, all by gen-vamps. However, Gabriel kindly eliminated the bulk of them.”

“You got it, G. Krynos is heading out now.”

 

 

Buenos Aires, Nueva Argentina

 

If the troops arriving in New Sydney were a surprise, then Buenos Aires Air Base had no idea what was even going on. Despite the fact that Draagh had created infoscreens that could not be touched or turned off by anyone, political operatives in the Argentine location managed to shut down power to all man-made vid displays, denying critical knowledge of the system’s liberation to a good percentage of military personnel. Added to this was the fact that it was already nightfall in Nueva Argentina, so the locals were working at a distinct disadvantage, compared to the invading lycans with superb night vision.

Krynos was fortunate to be accompanied to some of the more trusted naval officers aligned with Bagatelle, two of them being Cpts. Stor and Stanton, who in turn were flanked by their top aides and junior officers. Stor and Stanton carried recessive lycan genes, but were fortunate enough to have been enhanced to their full potential while in the Rhönen Dominion for training. Their initial appearance in the center of the base, an area called the grinder, shocked many, but due to base restrictions, only military police carried weapons with live ammunition – and they were smart enough to not try to apprehend hundreds of extremely large and heavily-armed invading soldiers. However, sniper fire started to ring out. After a few minutes and one Rhönen lycan being hit with a bullet (and magically healed), troops heard some screams from the perimeter, with the live fire stopping suddenly.

“I do believe the good Gabriel has come to our aid,” said Krynos, as he looked around smiling. “Truly impressive is this location. I believe I shall rebuild our troop quarters upon return to my home, using this place as a model for construction.”

“Okay, that’s awesome, King Krynos, but we need to command all stations, and if you didn’t notice, there’s no power,” said Capt. Stor.

“They probably cut the power to keep the Admiral’s message from disseminating much,” added Stanton. “I’ll take a recon team and go restore the power grid.”

Both Krynos and Stor nodded in agreement, while Stanton silently motioned to an Azulian recon group to follow his lead. Stor started moving various teams out to the perimeter of the base, while Krynos maintained his position in the center of the grinder, standing unafraid in front of his own brethren.

 

Vera Base, Azul System

 

“Max, it would be wise to go to Portlandia ahead of your troops, under the cover of an invisibility cantus. Nefarious forces had cut power lines in Buenos Aires in an attempt to keep as many as possible from learning of our efforts.” Draagh was slightly concerned for Max and Jennie’s efforts after having found that there were more government-aligned agents in Buenos Aires than had been previously imagined. His granddaughter-in-law gave him a sideways glance, and then moved over to her husband and started to adjust the sword strap that held his katana onto his back.

“Max, be careful, they can still see you with your simple cantus,” cautioned the gorgeous dega.

“Yeah sweetie, no worries. It’s daytime right now over there anyway. I’m just gonna shoot in, fly around, check things out and slip directly back,” said Max, who then kissed his wife before he took two steps and impressively jumped into the air, wings sprouting out from his back at the same time. He made a short loop over the remaining troops before disappearing through a portal to Portlandia.

 

Portlandia, America

 

An invisible hybrid lycan/archangel, the only his kind in the universe, shot into the air over Portlandia, a large city with a massive natural harbor. Unlike its Earthly west coast namesake, the port was salt water, and was named for the ancient town in the former United States of America due to its geographical similarities.

Max first went to the naval annex, and noting that only Draagh’s infoscreens displayed Bagatelle’s frozen image he immediately surmised something was wrong. Dropping to the ground in front of a building entrance he detected no electricity – someone had shut the power off.

He slipped inside the building to avoid being discovered by opening a door. Once inside he went directly to the ops center, finding it abandoned and dark.

 

Looks like someone’s buddied up with Johnson

 

The young mage dropped an infoscreen over the top of the main control panel, noting where circuits traveled. An engineer by education and trade, Max had little difficulty using his human skills along with his magical abilities to determine that the power plant’s main line had been severed. A quick 3D slip to that location and Max had the entire base lit up, which also caused a lot of soldiers and civilian personnel to exit their quarters and offices. Luckily, he was still invisible, even to heat scans, so he moved about the population, using his enhanced HUD to look for inactive lycans, ghouls and mages.

Max saw only normals for the first twenty minutes, but his readouts told him everyone was nervous – afraid of some form of deceit. It wasn’t long afterward when he sniffed the air and detected a foul odor – a noxious, yet familiar odor. Shaking his head he knew it couldn’t be true. He quickly generated an extra cantus around himself, one to block his scent, and upon rounding a corner what he saw shocked him to the point of nearly dropping all of his sensory defenses.

 

Vera Base, Azul System

 

"Max had better be careful," said Jennie, while she looked at the glimmering portal to Azul - specifically Portlandia. "It's already daybreak there, and he hasn't checked in for a while. I'm starting to -"

Everyone. Hey, Mike? I think I need some… help here,” commed Max.

Max, what is wrong? Why do you not come back and we can discuss your quandary,” responded Michael.

Max, get your ass back here now. You don’t sound right,” demanded his beautiful but preoccupied wife.

I’m not right. It’s just something that shouldn’t be. It’s impossible.”

What is it, Max?” asked Gabriel, chiming in from New Sydney.

 

I’m looking directly at an active vampire. And he’s standing out in the sun.”

Chapter 19 – Activated

 

Portlandia, America

 

What? A ghoul survives in the sun on a world where there should be none? Max, please hold. I have your position and I shall assist you in killing it,” said Gabriel.

Gabe! No! You can’t just go killing everything. We need some intelligence here. I’m taking it with me. Draagh, are you there?”

Yes, my boy. How may I assist?”

Max, are you bringing that thing back here?” asked Jennie.

Oh hell no. Draagh, meet me at Krynos’ castle. Whatever made this freak can probably track it. Jennie, hold off on Portlandia. Something weird is up here.”

Max opened the comm to include New Sydney COC, so they could bring Bagatelle into the fold.

“Admiral, can you give us a status update? We’re holding on Portlandia. I found an active vampire and Draagh and I are taking it to the Rhönen.”

“Captain, we are good here. In fact, it’s almost like a party. Draagh, I could use some assistance getting troops over to Buenos Aires,” said Bagatelle.

“Admiral, I believe we are experiencing the same revelry in our campaign,” reported Krynos. “Isamu and I are currently overseeing a change of leadership. We have captured twenty genetic vampires and they are in custody. In my opinion you should concentrate on Max’s issues at the moment.”

“Okay, but these guys are getting restless. I need to send them somewhere. Admiral, do you have any suggestions?” asked Jennie.

“Jen, send them here. We’ll need a massive contingency to march on the Capitol anyway.”

 

Max silently approached the being that shouldn’t have been where it was. For a moment it almost appeared that it somehow detected Max, but the moment no one was looking in their mutual direction Max slipped them both to the meadow outside Krynos’ castle, and released his cantuses at the same time. The vampire screeched and hissed, looking around in confusion, and then dove towards Max. The young lycan mage merely pointed his hand out and froze the beast in midair, with it retaining a look of confusion upon its rotting visage. It wasn’t a few more seconds and Draagh was at his grandson’s side, looking at the creature curiously.

“Hmm, yes, strange, quite strange indeed,” said the ancient Primulus.

“What’s that?” asked Max.

“I had my suspicions, but now I am certain. There are probably many more.”

My sons, you shall encounter activated ghouls. Please do not hesitate in eliminating them. We have all of the information we shall need from this one sample,” said Draagh.

“Wow, pops. That’s kinda not your style, is it?” asked Max.

Draagh gave his grandson a sincere, weathered look and sighed as the captured vampire popped out of sight.

“My boy, the further we delve into our campaign, the more ruthless we shall need to become. This is no small battle with a pathetic warlord. We are dealing with universal forces – those of your, and my kind.”

“Huh? Who’s involved now?”

“Let us go inside and I shall explain to you.”

 

New Sydney, Oz

 

“I’m done standing around. I’m going to New Sydney with my brother. He says it seems safe,” said Jennie. Her father-in-law, Michael, nodded his head and walked through the shimmering portal with her and the remaining troops, exiting out onto the expansive grinder in the center of the base.

New Sydney Naval Base had been the center of Jennie’s military career ever since she graduated from the academy, so she needed neither escort nor directions, even though Michael stuck to her like glue, mostly for her protection. Jennie was wearing standard military fatigues, as was Michael. She found it funny that he could technically be arrested and brought up on charges for impersonating an officer. That is if anyone could actually arrest one of the most powerful being in the universe. The two moved to Bagatelle’s command center he had set up in the communications center of the base, and walking in, noted that the officers and soldiers near him were almost exclusively inactive lycan.

 

Wow, we really do gravitate toward each other.

 

“Admiral, it is good to see that your efforts have been successful,” said Jennie, speaking to her brother in a manner befitting of his rank.

“Welcome, Commander. I am assuming Captain Gunnarsson is busy with our ancient ally in an attempt to discover just how an active ghoul came to be on this world?”

Jennie nodded her head, as Bagatelle looked at Michael. “Mickey, that’s a good look on you. Let me know if you ever want to make it permanent.”

Michael smiled while nodding his head, and then asked over the comm, “Luigi, what is my rank in this uniform?”

Let’s just call you Commodore. It’s the rank above Captain, but hasn’t been in use for generations.”

What? He’s a frikin’ Commodore? Dang!” Jennie exclaimed with fake dismay, and then elbowed her father-in-law in the side, giving him a mischievous grin.

Jennie, I know you’re joking, but I did that for a reason. First of all, Michael is billions of years old. Second, his rank is only eclipsed by mine, so no one will question him nor his authority at this time. Sadly, it appears that all command-rank officers have disappeared – erased. They are all dead and I am the highest-ranking officer in Azul System. I have platoons out hunting down anything not lycan or normal, and hearing an active vamp who’s sun-resistant was found has me preoccupied. You are staying with Michael and coordinating intelligence from all recon units. I want a status report every hour on the hour.”

“You got it. But G, what about the police force? How are they playing into this?” asked Jennie.

They appear to be all normals, with a few lycans. The chief of NS civilian security is an inactive ghoul, and has been detained.”

“But then who’s in charge of the police force?” she inquired.

 

“Sir, I understand the military situation, but where’s Chief Robinson?” asked the patrol officer in the doorway.

A kindly and slightly indigenous-looking older gentleman sat in the Chief’s office, wearing military fatigues, but displaying no rank. He looked up at the patrol officer, detecting the man was an inactive lycan. He then gave him a broad grin and said, “Chief Robinson has been detained for assisting in Leonard Johnson’s illegal elimination of the Constitution. I am Chief Jake Williams. It is a pleasure to meet you, young sir.”

Jake Williams looked out onto the Buenos Aires precinct floor, military and police officers mixed together, working on restoring order, if it was even unrestored in the first place. It turned out that no non-politico wanted anti-constitutional rule. They welcomed the military just to stop the rumors and the disappearances. Jake was a student of Earth history, having come from Alaska of the core timeline – the one that could not be changed. His village was moved to the alternate Earth by Marnn in an unexpected display of compassion for the Haidas, but Williams knew Mankind’s story all too well. On his world a military takeover meant even more death and destruction – more deceit and disappearances. It happened in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and El Proceso in Argentina, as well as many other smaller countries. However, lycans had taken over on Azul, and were fulfilling their genetic role as the protectors of Mankind.

“Officer, what is your name?” Williams kindly asked.

“Nano Sanchez, sir.”

“Nano, I like you. How would you like to be my assistant?”

Sanchez looked at Williams for a moment, trying desperately to see if he was being used or bamboozled, but he could always rely on his ability to gauge people, and felt Williams was authentic.

“Yes, I would like that very much, sir.”

“Okay. The first thing I need for you to do is to assure the public that what we are doing is a good thing, and that we only care about their safety. Put a team together and start working with the community.”

 

Rhönen Dominion, 4268

 

“Grigori? Weird name. You think they’re behind all of this?” asked Max.

“That is partly correct, my boy. They are nearly as strong as us. However, your lycan abilities may perhaps provide you with an edge unforeseen when we encounter them,” said Draagh with some amount of satisfaction.

“Well, where are they?” inquired Max.

“That I have yet to ascertain, Max. But now that we have this poor fool in custody I am going to study him a bit. Why not return to Vera while I complete some tasks here?”

“Good idea. I’m going to check on Buenos Aires. See ya!”

Max blinked out of sight, leaving Draagh in the dark antechamber of Krynos’ very quiet castle. He looked over at a cage in the corner, the vampire inside hissing and spitting like vampires would usually do.

“Well hello there, my friend. My name is Draagh, and I will need a bit of your blood.”

The vampire started to lash out through the bars as soon as the ancient Primulus approached. Holding his head back, the ghoul’s clawed hand nearly touched Draagh’s beard. He kept his distance and looked at the poor creature. He pitied vampires. Not on the level that he pitied cannibals, but he felt some bit of compassion for them. They were nature’s creation and it wasn’t really their fault they were assholes. Still, he had a job to do. Quickly moving to the cage, he reached inside, grabbing the ghoul by the throat. He squeezed so hard that the creature immediately lost consciousness. He then took a large syringe out and extracted a few CCs of blood from the creature’s neck.

He had a plan to deal with the vampire threat. It was not the time to be delicate.

 

###

 

Arriving in the center of the Buenos Aires Naval Base’s grinder, Max’s feet made a crunching sound as he touched down. He felt no need to camouflage himself and slipped to Gabriel’s side without hesitation.

“Hey Gabe, how are things?” he asked as soon as he was with his uncle.

“Hello, Max. I believe we have everything under control. King Krynos seems to be enjoying himself.”

“Oh, and how’s that?”

“He has installed himself as base commander, with Bagatelle’s permission, of course.”

Max looked at Gabriel’s lapel and noticed the single star, denoting the discontinued rank of Commodore. Smiling to himself, he would say nothing. If anything, the archangel was above and beyond rank.

“So… um, how many ghouls did you catch?” asked Max.

“None, Max. Why do you ask?”

“Huh? I thought you said they were all over the place!”

“Oh, my apologies, Max. I did not capture any. I eliminated thirty.”

Hah, okay, but they were all inactive, right?”

The archangel nodded his head as they looked at the shining buildings of Buenos Aires. The sun was starting to rise, and a beautiful golden gleam reflected off the countless structures made of glass and steel.

“Gabriel, can I ask a question?”

“Certainly, Max. What would you like to know?”

“Who are the Grigori? Pops was kinda vague when he brought them up.”

Gabriel stopped and looked at Max. It appeared that he was startled by the young man’s question, but he recouped rather gracefully and answered a question he had previously hoped would never, ever be asked of him.

“Max, this is the name of the collective of fallen Prīmulī. They rebelled against Jah when it appeared He was creating new species in our image. While some, such as myself, were not initially fond of the idea, we accepted Jah’s work without question. However, the Grigori left His graces and were punished quite severely.”

“Oh… I see. How were they punished?”

“They had part of their genome modified. They can never again enter into Jah’s realm at will, and further, they are lacking in certain abilities.”

“Well, they made an active vampire.”

“So I heard. Father has one in custody.”

“That’s the last thing we need – active vamps on Azul.”

“If there are more it shall provide hunting opportunities for your people,” suggested Gabriel.

“What? Serious? I mean, they’re human! My god, man!”

“Max, activated ghouls are less human than the lycan species, of which you are partly derived.”

“What do you mean, Gabe? They are less human than, say for instance, Jennie or Liliana?”

“Correct.”

“You know that we lycans are part wolf. So, what are vampires?”

“Their DNA was derived from an alien carrion-eating species.”

“No… way. Seriously?”

“Yes. Although repulsive to some, carrion-eaters occupy a very important niche in every ecosystem. They are like nature’s garbage collectors. And they weren’t always short-lived and rotting.”

“They weren’t?”

“No, in fact, they used to function symbiotically with the lycans, who were their opposite – preservers of life.”

“Then, what happened? Why did they become such jerks?”

“There were some particularly nasty ones, and through selective inbreeding made their strain dominant. Their hatred for the lycans grew, as they knew that their cousins were good of heart. They stopped praying to Jah and went on a global rampage, seeking to wipe out all normals in a feeding frenzy.”

“Oh wow,” said Max, “so what made them so stinky?”

“They would not cooperate, but were also an important part of nature, so we did what we could to control them without eliminating them from the ecosystem – we genetically shortened their lifespans and made them into constantly-rotting, half-lived ghouls, forever cursed to dwell in the darkness. It was a compromise between all Prīmulī, as it nullified the damage the creatures had previously dealt.”

Max thought for a moment, finding Gabriel’s claim to be of sound reasoning. He had also previously equated the stench of vampires with rotting meat. But still…

“Kinda like vulture people, then? So weird.”

“Max, as you learn to travel the universe you will find even stranger species.” The Milky Way is a young galaxy – actually, one of the youngest. But at the same time there is some evidence, in other galaxies, that shows the Milky Way to be much older than it appears. However, we have been unable to ascertain why this is so.”

Max thought about his vampire friend Lennie, and wondered if the man and his wife were descendants of the original vampires, but he put that to the back of his mind.

“Great info – thanks. But getting back to the Grigori. Pops thinks they’re involved, and if they are we’re gonna have to take them on. How are you feelings on that?”

Gabriel momentarily looked at Max with what resembled pride and said, “Well, that really depends on their numbers, which should be few. So, assuming that… with the four of us… no sweat.”

“Okay, Gabe. Thanks for the update. Now, I’ve heard chatter over the comm, but it appears that Buenos Aires is pretty secure. Is there anything I can do to help here? We’re dropping the Portlandia operation,” said Max.

“I believe we have achieved our objectives in this city. Would you like to visit with Krynos?”

“I may go grab him soon. Bagatelle believes we’re ready to address the politicos. I hope you’ll be there. We may need to push the envelope in order to get them to cooperate.”

Gabriel gave Max an inquisitive glance before turning away. “What do you mean – push the envelope?”

“We have a lot of information for them to swallow. You may need to reveal your presence to the world.”

“Max, that is forbidden.”

“By who?”

“By Jah, of course.”

“Um, okay,” said Max, “and just where is Jah?”

“I see your point. Very well. Notify me when you plan on confronting the tyrants.”

Gabriel shot up into the sky, becoming a blur streaking across the horizon, followed by a crackling sonic boom. It was only seconds before Max was shocked, seeing the archangel shoot down and hit the ground like a missile, causing what appeared to be an explosion.

Gabriel, are you okay? Please answer.

I am fine, Max. However, the ghoul I targeted has been eliminated.”

Oh… groovy.”

 

Max decided to fly around the city, under camouflage, and look for any signs of unrest. The people of B.A. tended to be almost annoyingly boisterous, especially during politically tense situations. In this aspect they were very similar to their Earthly ancestors from centuries before. Given this, Max would have expected to see masses of people protesting in the streets. However, this was not the case. It appeared that business was going along as normal.

King Krynos, I am looking at Buenos Aires and it appears completely calm and normal. I believe the occupation has been successful.

Max, my boy! So good to hear you… in my head! Yes, the good people of this city were craving freedom from the tyrannical forces that had ruled over their lives for the past few months. What plans have you at this time?

He’s getting his ass over here and giving me a kiss before anything,” comm-demanded Jennie.

Max used his enhanced HUD and easily located Krynos and Jennie, both in the naval base’s command center. Instead of slipping in, he chose to enter in a more flamboyant fashion, not even bothering to hide his wings. While all troops part of the occupation were aware of their genetic differences, as well as those of Max and his relatives, it was a completely new thing for resident soldiers. There were a few gasps from a crowd of enlisted personnel when Max landed hard onto the firm ground, one knee down, accompanied by his opposing fist. It was his most macho landing pose, and he used it to good effect. He had barely retracted his wings when his beautiful wife marched over to his location. Sailors watched, expecting the beautiful woman to salute the Captain, but instead were shocked when she threw herself into his arms, the two melding into a passionate kiss, which also happened to be a totally inappropriate public display of affection. But Max and Jennie were above and apart, and most knew it.

“Mmm, good to see you, baby,” whispered Jennie.

“Damn, if there wasn’t so much going on I’d-”

“Shhh, there’s plenty of time for that tonight, Max. First off, I think G is ready to march on the Senate. Can you slip us over?”

“Sure sweetie, but I need to talk these guys up for a minute.”

As an activated lycan lieutenant named Vines approached, Max looked at the crowd of astonished military personnel, mostly sailors, and addressed them all, amplifying his voice with a simple cantus.

 

“You have all done a fine job of securing this installation and el Distrito de Buenos Aires. It is critical you maintain order here, as we are going to free the people of Azul and her moons from the tyranny of Leonard Johnson and his ghoul cronies. Although he is currently listed as missing, his reign of terror is over. Today we give Azul System back to her people.”

 

The crowd cheered wildly, shooting their fists into the air, while Max and Jennie looked on at the massive throngs of soldiers. He gave his wife a grin, and said, “Pretty cool, huh?” slipping her from slight with a pop before she could even respond.

 

 

 

Chapter 20 – New News

 

Zorro News Studio, New Sydney, Oz

 

“You will read this script during your broadcast, or I’ll have you behind bars for thwarting the will of your leadership, do you under stand me?” screamed Senator Markus Collins, who also happened to have the recessive vampiric gene. His face contorted into an ugly visage of rage as he shoved the manuscript into the hands of Maria López, reporter, newscaster and secret member of the underground rebellion. The attractive dega looked Collins in his dead, cold eyes and nodded her head. She looked around, noting that her crew grew looks of dismay, believing she had switched sides, but Maria had a plan.

“Very well, Senator. I would like for you to remain here so we may interview you after the announcement. I believe that would be quite conducive to your career, would it not?”

Collins’ face immediately relaxed and turned into a pleased smirk, so typical of those who carried the putrid recessive genes. But the one thing Collins didn’t know was that Maria had a comm – a very special comm provided by Draagh, and it enabled her to silently communicate her intentions with the news crew.

I am going to add some bits of information to this script. Bruno, some of Admiral Bagatell’s Special Forces will arrive in moments. You are to assist them in apprehending the Senator, where we shall put him in front of the cameras. Should be fun.

Everyone stayed silent, but smiles grew throughout the room as Maria’s producer started her backwards countdown to a live feed. Per the Senator’s instructions, all channels were to carry the newscast. Fortunately, all broadcast stations were part of the underground.

“5-4-3-2-” the producer said quietly.

“Good afternoon. I’m Maria López, bringing a special emergency message to the people of Azul System. Through inter-governmental and private channel cooperation, this segment is being broadcast on all stations throughout Azul and her three moons. I have been provided with critical information from Senator Markus Collins, in response to the invasion of alien forces in Buenos Aires and New Sydney. However, before I begin to read what has been unceremoniously shoved into my hands, I am going to preface this segment with some critical information that is not included in this criminal piece of propaganda.”

Collins suddenly realized that López wasn’t going to happily parrot the words of the dictatorship as they had willingly done so many times before. He started to move toward the cameraman when he felt a very large hand painfully grip his shoulder. Turning around, he saw an unusually large soldier – a lycan from the Rhönen Dominion, staring him straight in the eyes while baring his oversized canines.

“Bewegen Sie sich nicht, wenn Sie leben wollen [Do not move if you wish to live],” commanded the huge lycan, while staring the smaller inactive vampire down. The senator looked around and saw nearly a dozen heavily armed Special Forces operatives stationed at the perimeter of the broadcast studio. There was nothing he could do, aside from forming a silent, contorted face of rage.

“We in the media have failed you, the people of Azul System. Out of fear, we have willingly pushed the propaganda of the federal government, enabling them to dismantle the Constitution and take away our personal freedoms. So, as a parting gift to these tyrants I am going to read their ridiculous words, accompanied by truthful explanations. So, to begin, it says; Good Day Citizens. We have encountered a very grave situation. The traitor, disgraced former Rear Admiral Luigi Bagatelle is attempting to form a military coup d’état so that he can install himself as the emperor of Azul System.”

Maria stopped momentarily, visibly attempting to stifle a snicker, and then continued.

“Okay, I have personally met Admiral Bagatelle, and he is most certainly not attempting a coup d’état, nor does he desire to be any sort of king. So, continuing… We are calling upon all citizens to fight these invading forces. Do not give them your cooperation, sabotage them where you can, and those who help shall be richly rewarded. These illegal actions shall not be tolerated, and I have personally spoken with Chairman Johnson, who is, at this moment, coordinating a counterattack, and his heart is with the people of Azul System. We must come together at this time of great tragedy, and fight the invaders, who have brought along savages from Earth, the planet of our ancestors.”

López stopped and gave the camera a deadpan glare before breaking out in hysterical laughter, which was followed by everyone else in the newsroom, save Collins. She motioned for the soldier guarding Collins to bring the wannabe tyrant to the news desk. Doing so, he forcefully put the senator into a chair by the lovely reporter’s side. Her laughter having subsided, Maria wiped a tear away from her eye and looked at the politician, starting an interview with the pale man.

“Senator Markus Collins. Welcome to the broadcast. This manuscript that I hold in my hand – did you not give this to me?”

“Yes,” he hissed.

“And did you not threaten to have me imprisoned if I did not read it verbatim?”

“To not read the official statements of your leadership is treasonous in the least.”

López gave him a mischievous grin and then signaled to the camera crew by twirling her hand around in the air. “What the senator has forgotten is the most basic premise of the Constitution – it is that they serve us, not the other way around. People of Azul System, what the senator is doing is indeed illegal per our founding document. I can also tell you that we are indeed liberated. The majority of the media long ago realized the folly of our ways. We had been the supportive lapdogs of a growing, tyrannical regime, led by Leonard Johnson, who, by the way, is missing. The good senator here has not spoken with Johnson, nor is the self-styled chairman leading any form of resistance. That is a base lie, as is everything that I read off this farce of a public service announcement. Bagatelle has come back to liberate us, and is accompanied by some very special people. Yes, it is true that there are soldiers from Earth with him, but they have no interest in taking over. They volunteered to aid us – their cousins – in regaining our freedom. You see, they lost their liberty so many times in the past that it’s almost second nature for them to fight back for the good of Mankind. So I say to you, fellow brothers and sisters – live your lives as normal, with the exception that you will not need to move in fear for saying the wrong things. Your Constitutional freedoms have been restored.”

Maria put her hand to her ear, apparently picking up a transmission.

“We’ve just received word that Admiral Bagatelle is approaching the Azul Capitol building, where he will address a joint session of Congress.” She then looked at Collins and asked, “Would you like to be escorted to the Senate chamber and listen to Admiral Bagatelle, Mr. Senator?”

Collins hissed, saying, “I would rather be thrown off a cliff.”

“That can be arranged. However, we do adhere to the rule of law, so you will be taken to listen to the good Admiral. Bruno? Please assist this good soldier and escort Mr. Collins to the Senate.”

Turning back to the camera, she gained a solemn expression while staring deeply into the lens. Then taking a deep breath, continued, “There have been rumors of disappearances. I can confirm that they are not rumors. Leonard Johnson and his criminal cohorts have been murdering people at will, eliminating entire families. But he was in such a hurry they could not effectively erase all traces of his victims from system records. In fact, he didn’t even bother to do so, as Johnson was building a fleet of ships to return to Earth. Admiral Bagatelle shall reveal the details of this once Constitutional government has been restored. So, in closing, we are all in this together. Our phone lines are open, and any occupying soldiers are instructed to kindly assist you in the case you have been negatively affected by the current despotic regime. Freedom is near, and we shall survive and prosper. This is Maria López reporting… for all humanity.”

Collins was yanked out of his chair as soon as the cameras were turned off, but Maria called out to Bruno, the studio’s head of security, asking him to hold off for a moment. Walking up, she gave Collins an emotionless glare, and then looked downward, as if she were fighting off heartburn for a moment. Collins’s eye grew large as Maria’s cheeks filled in with sparse hair and her now smiling mouth featured enlarged canines. Then, without further delay, she punched him in the face with such force it removed two teeth from his mouth.

“I can only imagine how many people you had murdered for your own convenience. Oh, and your little exodus fleet has been rendered inoperative. You’re stuck on Azul, asswipe.”

Collins grew a look of panic as he licked the blood off his lips, finding the flavor to not be disagreeable.

 

###

 

Max and Jennie slipped to Bagatelle’s side and matched his stride as he approached the massive steps going up to the Capitol Building, which was a near-identical replica of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. on Earth. Of course the original building had centuries-before been decimated during the Vrol War, so it was fortunate that the American consortium group had won the lottery for capitol design. Nearly everything built on Azul that was similar to Earth was the result of lotteries. Hence, the adoption of New Sydney as the Federal System seat, the Australian military uniforms (and accompanying side-pinned slouch hats), the Swiss-style police force structure and the Argentine-style of sports institutions and universities, among other things.

A massive movement of troops surrounded Bagatelle and his sister and his brother-in-law, with both Michael and Gabriel close by, unseen and providing invisible protective shields in the case of ghoul snipers. Fortunately, no one attempted to assassinate the military leader. The Admiral stopped at the first step, looking up with appreciation. He had been raised to respect government – constitutional government that was supposed to be by and for the people. Then his face turned to one of resolve, as he knew it was time to return that government back to the citizens of Azul System. Looking down, he took one step, paused momentarily, and then marched up toward the massive columns that led to the entrance. Capitol police scattered, not willing to confront the invading military forces, with many welcoming their presence by saluting. The three lycans, accompanied by so many soldiers, easily walked into the entrance and headed left, toward stairs that would lead up to the Hall of the House of Representatives. This room was larger than the Senate Chamber, and was always used for gatherings of joint sessions of Congress. They already had eyes and ears in the building, so they knew both houses of Congress would be there. As they entered the System Statuary Hall they saw Draagh, standing in the middle, accompanied by Krynos, both dressed in their typical garb -Viking-like leather battle gear. Michael and Gabriel appeared out of the wings of the lobby, having removed their invisibility cantuses, dressed in battle fatigues as before.

“My dear Admiral. It is good to see you,” stated the ancient mage, while winking at Jennie and Max. “However, might I suggest a change in attire before entering the Great Hall? I believe your ceremonial uniforms would be much more befitting of a group of liberators than camouflage battle fatigues.”

“Hello, Lord Draagh, King Krynos,” said Bagatelle, as he nodded courteously. “I do believe you are correct in your assumption. I can send for… oh. That was fast.” Bagatelle was nearly startled when his clothing, and that of his accompanying family simply changed. Looking over, he saw Max waving his finger around, much like his grandfather would do whenever he had done something magical.

“Admiral, my grandfather is indeed correct. You maintain the appearance of the liberator of humanity. It is my honor to accompany you to the House floor.”

Jennie looked at Bagatelle with an expression of deep, sincere admiration. “It’s also my honor, Brother.”

The two saluted their commanding officer, only pulling their flattened palms from their brows after Bagatelle had returned their salute. Turning, he pushed open the doors to the Great Hall and entered, trying to not show any awe or appreciation for the room itself, as it was partially populated by what amounted to traitors of Mankind. He walked down the pathway to address both the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate. It was common knowledge that the President of the Senate, a man named Joshua Vann, was placed there by Johnson. The dictator had dissolved the office of Vice President of Azul System after having murdered the previous, legal administration. Bagatelle was going to address the House Majority Leader, a normal female by the name of Sarah Corning, as he felt she better represented the people of Azul System, and wasn’t a genetic vampire like Vann. He reached the podium area and looked up at the ornate desks where the leaders were seated. Then, setting his ceremonial slouch hat down onto a desk at his side, he addressed Congress.

“Greetings Mr. Vice President and Madam Speaker. I am Admiral Luigi Bagatelle, as I am sure you already know.”

“Yes, yes, we know of your traitorous deeds, former rear-admiral,” responded Vann, maintaining a snarky tone to his voice. He knew he was powerless to do anything, but he was a political creature of habit and sought to diminish Bagatelle’s presence in the chamber.

“Greetings, Rear Admiral. I am not sure if it is a good thing you do, but we have brought together both houses of Congress in order to hear your supplications,” said Corning, using a much more gentile tone.

Bagatelle looked at her, and then at Vann. Max and Jennie were by his side and the first floor of the hall was filled with soldiers. Bagatelle had the advantage, and he knew it.

“I am not here to supplicate, entreaty or otherwise petition this governmental body.”

“Oh really,” said Vann, “then what is your purpose? Please enlighten us, before we convict you of treason and do what we should have done in the first place – put you to death.”

Bagatelle grew a slight smirk, knowing Vann’s words were hollow. Neither he nor the Congressional body had such power. That was left to the Department of Justice, which was no longer functioning thanks to Johnson’s manipulations.

“Mr. Vann, I would sooner shoot you in the head, so it’s best you shut your mouth. I intended to keep this session civil, and you aren’t helping in the least. So, in the best interest of all, I am going to introduce my compatriots, and then inform you of my intentions. To my left is someone whom I was ordered to pursue and bring back, dead or alive. Instead, I let him go free, disobeying direct orders. Please meet Captain Maximilianus Gunnarsson. And to my right is Commander Jennifer Escalante de Gunnarsson. To their sides are Krynos, an ally from Earth, and Lord Draagh, Captain Gunnarsson’s grandfather. Behind them are Michael and Gabriel, Captain Gunnarsson’s father and uncle, respectively.”

“Forgive me for asking, Rear Admiral, but was not Gunnarsson’s rank Commander, and Miss Escalante’s rank a mere Lieutenant?”

“That would be correct, ma’am. I found it necessary to give brevet promotions to them, as well as to a number of other individuals. Nearly the entire senior command structure of Azul Defense Forces has been eliminated – most probably murdered. Oh, and I have assumed the rank of Admiral, if you please.”

“I recognize no such promotions in rank, especially to traitors!” barked out Vann, while garnering tepid applause from the chamber.

“Mr. Vann, we must maintain our civility. Please note the masses of armed soldiers in this Great Hall,” cautioned Corning. “Very well then – Admiral – what are your demands?”

“You are to legally unravel everything done by Leonard Johnson, and restore Constitutional rule to Azul System. Further, we must work to restore our defensive state of military readiness, which has been nearly eradicated.”

“Impossible! We are in a state of emergency! We cannot show any form of hostility toward our arriving visitors, the Artusians! How irresponsible can you be, traitor! For all we know they could be ushering in a golden age for Mankind!” bellowed Vann.

“Will someone put a muzzle on this clown?” asked Bagatelle, looking around at his companions. Draagh casually waved his hand, not even needing to do so, and caused the annoying senator to go mute, much like he had done the first time he met Bagatelle and Jennie on the banks of the Urubamba River in Peru. But this time, instead of paralysis, Vann was able to flail his arms around and move his mouth – but remaining comically silent, which was the desired effect.

 

That’s the cone of silence, hun,” commed Max to his fetching wife.

Um, I don’t get it.”

Earth television show – Get Smart. We’ll watch it later.”

 

“Madam Speaker, I have come with a list of requirements, none unrealistic nor illegal. First, I will repeat myself. You are to unravel everything that Leonard Johnson has done. We are to return to Constitutional rule of law. You will hold immediate elections for the office of President of Azul System. Of course, as we are under a time constraint, I believe the best course of action is to have this governing body elect one of its own. This new President will then select his or her own Vice President and Cabinet. Second, you will dissolve the Security Council. This body will elect a Supreme Court, as once existed years ago and is prescribed in the Constitution. The position of Chairman shall be dissolved, and we shall begin the hunt for Leonard Johnson, the most notorious traitor to Mankind in our history.”

“But how can you call the Chairman a traitor when he went through proper legal channels to accomplish his objectives? Mind you, I am not of his party, but still, we acted in a parliamentary fashion and all governmental modifications were done legally, and with the best of intentions,” reported Sarah Corning, who then received a glare of disbelief from the formerly deposed military officer.

“Madam Speaker, you have heard our demands. Perform these tasks or the military will simply take over, imprison you all, and then reconstitute the government without your help. Cooperate and this way you can at least keep your job,” added Max, speaking for the first time. The woman gave him an alarmed glare and sat back, appearing to take a deep breath.

“Madam Speaker,” offered Bagatelle, “the next part of our little discussion involves educating this body with some facts that are unknown to you. As you are not military, you only received partial information on Earth, side space and my activities – and only that which Johnson wanted you to hear.”

“Information, such as?” she inquired.

Bagatelle looked at Draagh, who then created large infoscreens that mimicked vid displays. Every angle was viewable in the Great Hall, and the original video that Max had seen in Los Angeles started to play. Bagatelle then expertly narrated the events for the chamber.

“Roughly six decades after our descendants had fled Earth, and were taking their long, frozen journey to these new worlds, a fleet of insectoid alien invaders, called the Vrol, attacked and decimated the planet. Their purpose was to eradicate Mankind – nothing more, nothing less. Please note the alien craft in the displays. They are techno-organic in nature. Alive and self-repairing, they transported two kinds of their species to the ground – the ground bugs and the centipedes. Another species, the fliers, merely shot out into the sky and started attacking Earth’s aircraft. These massive techno-organic craft then linked together, like an insanely complicated jigsaw puzzle, and surrounded the planet, preventing any escape. But man fought on, and soon started getting the upper hand. Once the invaders had determined that they might not win, they rained a virulent flesh-eating amoebic strain into the atmosphere. It dissolved any fauna it touched, eliminating entire species, and nearly wiping humanity from the face of the planet. Captain Gunnarsson presented me with evidence of this perversion, and I brought it back and reported my findings to the Security Council. Then-Councilman Len Johnson accused me of fabricating this data, even going so far as to coerce an enlisted technician to lie and swear under oath that I had forced him to create a fake vid and falsify the amoeba fossils.”

“You expect us to believe that, you pig? You’re a liar, Bagatelle, and have always been!” shouted a rep from his seat. This was enough for the Admiral, who was preparing to move to his next bit of schooling for Congress.

 

Troops please use your eyepieces and identify all ghouls. I want two soldiers on each vamp. Also, Alicia, please bring in Kyle and Olson,” Bagatelle thought out over the comm.

 

Soldiers started moving into the crowd, causing some gasps and a number of screams, but no one was harmed. Once approximately thirty percent of the senators and reps were accompanied, Bagatelle continued.

“In ancient times, up until approximately the year 600 C.E., Mankind had a number of enhanced subspecies. However, we were watched by superior beings who had determined we were not progressing in a proper fashion, so they decided to deactivate some of the amazing abilities we used to possess. I have soldiers posted to the sides of members of this body who carry the activated genes of one of these ancient subspecies.”

While Bagatelle paused for a moment, the guarded ghouls looked at each other and actually smirked, figuring it was no coincidence they were all allies. Max, Gabriel and Michael moved into the mass of seats and started touching inactive lycans on the right shoulder, while Bagatelle said, “I would like for those of you being touched on the shoulder by Captain Gunnarsson, Michael or Gabriel to please stand up.”

The genetic lycans stood up, but none showed fear. They knew they were just in their cause, and watched the Admiral with great interest.

“Those of you standing are of the lycan genome – Homo Sapiens Canis. Captain Gunnarsson, Commander Escalante de Gunnarson and I are of this subspecies also, as is our friend King Krynos of Earth. Our ancestors had immense strength, and were created to protect Mankind. While small in numbers, only comprising one percent of the population, we are noble, even though we were long ago denied our innate skills. All of you – you shall keep your places in this body. Now those of you with escorts at either side – your ancestors were Homo Sapiens Mortuus. When enhanced species were deactivated centuries ago you actually benefitted more than the lycans, who lost their skills. You received a normal lifespan and became the attractive, yet manipulative people you see every morning in the mirror. Your ancestors lived an average of 35 years, and were in a constant state of decomposition. They used to eat garbage and carrion. In short, they were planetary shit-eaters. And although they had enhanced strength and night vision, they could not tolerate sunlight and subsisted on drinking human blood. You were called vampires.”

The entire chamber erupted into laughter, causing Bagatelle to get a perplexed look on his face. Max knew the only way to get the message through was to provide a little show and tell, so he sucked it up and changed to his phase 2.5. Those up close to the Captain watched in horror as his body convulsed, bones broke and fluids discharged from orifices. Jennie stood by his side unaffected, and knelt down, while running her fingers along his lush, brown mane.

“You okay, baby?” she whispered.

“Yesh. Fun.”

A near-full werewolf named Max Gunnarsson stood up and threw his head back, letting out a blood-curdling howl, which coincidentally caused screams in the Great Hall. Soldiers quickly mobilized and made everyone stay in their seats, but the inactive lycans in Congress merely stood their ground, all growing smiles. They finally understood their dreams, their odd habit of biting their lips, as well as their intense desire to protect and serve. Some looked at his clawed hands and grinned, their eyes growing large, and more than a few wished they could do what Max had just done.

“When Captain Gunnarsson went to Earth he was able to recapture the abilities of his ancestors,” said Jennie. “The Admiral and I were able to do the same. There are four phases a lycan can adopt. Phase 1 is how you see me – we call it Day Form. Then there is Phase 2, which we call Battle Form. Admiral, if you would please?”

Bagatelle snickered and shook his head, pointing out to the masses of soldiers in the large room. Each one had transitioned to Phase 2. This caused gasps from the audience, mostly normals. The escorted gen-vamps hissed – more of an instinctive reaction on their part.

“Captain Gunnarsson has transitioned to what we call Phase 2.5, or Assassin Form. The only other form we can maintain is involuntary, and it only happens on a full moon. In the case of Azul it is a two-day full moon. We call that Death Form, and it is indeed deadly. We shall need all inactive, genetic lycans to go through a gentle, painless process of activation in order to fight to save this world,” she continued.

“My dear, to save this world from what?” asked Sarah Corning.

“The ones you call the Artusians – they’re actually the Vrol, the same species that nearly wiped out Earth – and they’re coming here to do the same thing.”

 

Chapter 21 – Revelations

 

“Lies! All lies! We have seen imagery of the visitors. They’re angels!” cried out one of the normal congresswomen, causing Michael to look down slightly while shaking his head. Max reverted back to his Day Form, using a cantus to clean up his uniform.

 

Dad, I know you have your rules, but we need to wrap this up. I can only see one way,” thought out Max.

 

The usually stoic Michael became affected in an emotional sense, with Max having directly addressed him as Dad for the first time ever. Michael looked at his younger brother, who nodded his head in agreement.

 

Very well, Son. Shall we meet with Miss Corning, and perhaps a few others in private?”

 

Before Max could respond, Commander Alicia Vasquez entered into the Great Hall with both Tech Olson and her nephew, Kyle Reynolds, in tow.

“Admiral, I have accompanied the two individuals you requested and they are ready to address Congress at your convenience,” said the attractive dega commander.

Bagatelle turned and gave his fiancé a courteous nod, holding his arm out and beckoning the two to approach the podium. Kyle had absolutely no difficulty walking towards his future uncle, but Tech Olson, timid in the first place, was terrified. Johnson had truly put the poor man through the ringer. But by looking at Bagatelle’s face he detected no malice from the Admiral. Steeling himself, he walked up first, looked at the Admiral briefly and then at the Speaker.

“Ma’am, my name is Tech Arvin Olson. It was my testimony that caused Admiral Bagatelle’s house arrest last year.”

Sarah Corning gave him a stern gaze and nodded for him to continue speaking.

“I come to tell you ma’am, of my own free will and volition, that I bore false witness to the good Admiral. In fact, I never even saw the data and evidence Admiral Bagatelle brought back from Earth. Mr. Johnson told me that if I did not say exactly what he wanted then something terrible would happen to my family.” Olson’s eyes started to water as he stared straight forward.

“We found him in a prison cell, ma’am,” said Alicia, “nearly starving to death.

“Mr. Olson, where is your family? Have you seen them?” asked Corning, maintaining a bit of compassion in her voice. But that was all it took to push the man over the edge. Dropping to his knees, he began to sob uncontrollably.

“He-h-h-he killed t-t-them! Johnson had them m-murdered and th-then threw me in j-jail for n-n-nothing. He sh-sh-showed me a v-vid of them d-dead and laughed!”

“Oh my god,” gasped Jennie, who quickly moved over and helped Alicia to lift the poor soul, taking him to a nearby bench where he sat, slumped over and still sobbing.

Kyle walked right up to the podium and gave Corning a serious gaze, not even bothering to look at Vann, knowing the man was an inactive vampire.

“Ma’am, my name is Kyle Reynolds. My father worked in Johnson’s secret base, where he was retrofitting Exodus barges with side space hook drive technology. I don’t believe he was aware of the Vrol, and merely thought we were going to start a new life on the old world of our ancestors. I wasn’t supposed to know any of these things, but I have certain… abilities.”

“What sort of abilities, young man?” Corning asked curiously.

“He’s a bit of a hacker and snoop. His skills have come in quite handy for the underground,” added Alicia, growing a proud grin.

“Anyway, Dad asked Johnson for a promise we would be on the new exodus, and that same night, after I had snuck out to go to a party, my house exploded.”

“That doesn’t mean the good Chairman had anything to do with a tragic accident!” interjected Vann, having previously been released from Draagh’s cantus of silence.

Kyle gave him a glare that was meant to melt faces. The boy never liked, nor trusted big government, and since his time in the Rhönen he had learned to despise vampires with an equal intensity.

“That means nothing to me, coming from a genetic ghoul in league with a dictator. The truth is, we were erased. All records of our entire family were taken off the data net. That only happens when the tyrants want you gone without a trace.”

Vann got an annoyed look on his face and said, “Take care with how you describe your leaders, young whelp.”

“Oh,” Kyle responded with a face of innocence, “so you then admit to being that very same government that murders citizens for its own pleasure?”

“A deeper search brought them up – school records and all. They were murdered,” added Alicia.

Vann looked like he was going to say something, but again found himself mute, this time the gift of silence coming from Max. Corning looked as if she were thinking deeply, but then turned to Bagatelle.

“Admiral, do you have any other facts to bring before this body before we vote?”

“I would leave that to Captain Gunnarsson,” he said, “Max, is there anything else you’d like to add?”

“Thanks, Admiral, I would. Madam Speaker, ladies and gentlemen of Congress, I invented the side space hook drive. I know there are some of you who believe that Johnson’s son Ryder invented it, but let’s be real – he only had an undergrad degree in political science, while I have three Master degrees in engineering and a PhD. Hell, my doctoral thesis postulated the existence of side space. If anyone was able to create the machinery to enable travel through the void, it was me, and that’s exactly what I did. This is also why I was pursued. Len Johnson wanted to command side space technology for his own purposes – to return to Earth and start a new world where he would be the de facto leader. There is simply way too much evidence and too many witnesses to deny facts. It is true that I am… different. But so are many other people, and there is nothing wrong with that. Mankind has great promise, but if we don’t band together immediately we shall perish. We now know Johnson left in a side space-enabled craft to meet with the Vrol. We have proof of this. Please look at the screen.”

Max pointed up at the infoscreens, disguised as vid displays, and caused Miguel Hernandez’ images from his surveillance contact lenses to show up. Senators and Congressional representatives gasped as they saw proof of Johnson’s treachery. Even though the evidence was overwhelming, more than a few genetic vampires cried foul, claiming the imagery was faked.

“Ma’am, we would like to meet with you in private, along with some of your committee leaders. These must be people of the utmost integrity, and most certainly not any of those who are being guarded by soldiers.”

“Well, this is highly irregular, Captain, but I believe your wish can be granted.”

“I demand to be in this meeting!” silently commanded Vann, his upper lip quivering, Max and the other Prīmulī being able to understand his mouthed demand.

“No, you shall not be in this meeting. Anyone on Johnson’s exodus list in fact is to be removed from this chamber immediately,” said Bagatelle, who then waved his hand in the air, prompting the soldiers guarding the congressional genetic vampires to lift them out of their seats, and to march them to the center area of the floor. Draagh created a bit of a show by creating a four-meter wide slip portal to the Buenos Aires prison. The passageway shimmered beautifully, and most everyone who saw it stared in awe, except for the screaming inactive vampires who were to travel through to the other side. Lycan soldiers started to move through the portal with their charges, immediately eliciting cheers and applause from everyone else in the chamber. It was apparent that the departing politicians were not well liked, even by the weakest of normals.

Bagatelle turned his attentions back to the Congressional leaders, watching as Vann was yanked from his chair while silently screaming in protest. As the defiant gen-vamp reached the portal, he found himself face-to-face with Kyle Reynolds.

“Still a tough guy?” asked the teenager, having to quickly close his eyes as the mute senator spat in the lad’s face. Wiping saliva from his cheek, Kyle grinned, and without showing anyone else, shifted to his Phase 2 form and punched Vann directly in the mouth, knocking out everyone one of the older man’s front teeth, top and bottom. Vann choked on blood as he spit out a remaining incisor, the pain being overwhelming. Still, he gave Kyle a grin and acted like it was no big deal. However, when Kyle forcefully put his booted foot directly into Vann’s reproductive organs his reaction was completely different, terminating in the senator’s vomiting all over the floor.

“Okay, I’m done. Thanks, Tío!” said Kyle, causing Bagatelle to grow a slightly guilty expression, but knowing the boy really needed a release from the pain of his family’s death. Vann had been identified as one of Johnson’s closest confidants, and was most probably involved in the murders of countless citizens.

“Madam Speaker, please select the ten people you trust most of those who are standing. Oh, and please bring the congresswoman who claimed the Artusians are angels,” said the admiral, pointing out to the audience where the inactive lycan congressmen and women were still on their feet.

The woman looked out and easily selected ten individuals, saying, “You know, it’s odd, but I would have picked from that group anyway. I wonder why that is?”

“Their genetics make them particularly trustworthy, ma’am,” answered Jennie.

“I see. Well, please follow me everyone,” said Corning as she moved to a door on the side of the Great hall. Then before exiting the room, she turned and commanded, “Everyone is to stay in this chamber. We shall return shortly.”

Inside a large meeting room were Bagatelle’s group, minus Alicia Vasquez, who had remained in the Great Hall with Tech Olson and Kyle. Corning took a seat at the head of a long, beautiful table made of mahogany and put her elbows on the table top, intertwining her fingers. Looking on as everyone except for the occupation forces took seats, she had a look of expectation on her face.

“Well, here we are in private. The floor is yours, Admiral.”

“Actually, I give the floor to Michael, the father of Captain Gunnarsson, ma’am. He is more of an expert in these things than I.”

“Things? What sort of things?” she asked.

Michael walked to the side of the normal woman who had spoken out in defense of the Artusians.

“Earlier, this kind lady said she had seen imagery of the Artusians, claiming they were angels. Madam Speaker, the Vrol are not angels. As we had earlier stated, they are a vile, insectoid race created to eliminate entire worlds. However, we are angels,” said the Taxiarch as he, Max and Gabriel extended their impressive spans of obsidian-black wings. Gasps filled the room as the three flapped and floated up, circling each other and then spreading out over the audience. Max landed next to the congresswoman who had claimed the Artusians to be angels and smiled, holding out his hand.

“Ma’am. We’re real, but what Johnson showed you is not. Death approaches and we all need to work together.”

The woman slowly reached out and touched Max’s hand. Then moving a bit closer to the Captain, she touched one of his wings, a look of wonderment encompassing her face. Michael landed back down in front of Sarah Corning, and crossed his arms, giving her a smile.

“Who are you, sir? Admiral Bagatelle introduced you only as Michael.”

“That is correct, ma’am. I am also known as Mija-El… and the Taxiarch.”

“Oh. My. God. You-you-you… you’re Saint Michael?” she gasped.

“I am he to whom you refer, yes. Your knowledge of my name comes to me as a surprise.”

“I was raised Catholic in secret, so of course I know who you are. Should I… pray to you?”

Michael started laughing while shaking his head. “No! Why would you do that?”

“Well, my religion… it…”

“Religion is a creation of Mankind, not of the Prīmulī,” responded Michael.

“What is a Prīmulī?” asked Corning.

“We are the Prīmulī,” said Gabriel as he landed next to his brother with a solid thud. “It is our species. Humanity is a distant, lesser-evolved cousin created in our image, but will eventually reach our stage in evolution. However, in order for this to happen you must follow Admiral Bagatelle’s instructions, lest you be annihilated. You must embrace this change. We are here to help, which is extremely rare. We have watched Mankind since his precarious beginnings on Earth, and although we stayed hidden from sight we were always with you, adhering to a policy of non-interference. Now, in this time of great need, we reveal ourselves to this small group. So, work with us now.”

“Oh, and may I add, up until the point of removing the vampires from the Great Hall, the entire joint session of Congress had been televised system-wide. Aside from what happens in this room, there are to be no more secrets,” said Jennie.

“Who said you could do that?” asked Corning.

“It was I who requested this to be televised,” said Draagh, his voice booming throughout the room.

“And who are you?” asked Corning.

“He is our father,” stated Michael, grinning slightly.

“Oh… my god. You’re… God?” asked a stunned Corning, nearly falling backwards off her chair.

Draagh snickered under his breath and shook his head. “No, no, no my dear. No, not at all. He who you refer to as God we call Jah, and he is my father. I must say there has been quite a bit of confusion in the whole order of things. Perhaps, once we have put all these silly matters to rest, we can sit down to a nice drink of single malt Scotch whisky and discuss the order of the universe. However, we have more to show you. Max, would you care to explain the mysteries of the universe to these fine people?”

Max waved his hand, creating an infoscreen on a large wall and then addressed the group.

“Before the sixth century deactivation of lycans and vampires, there was also a subspecies of mages – men and women who could command the forces of nature. Among their many abilities, they could heal, build and repair. Most were of noble spirit, but some were tempted by darkness. Nevertheless, these forces of nature were what could be described as subatomic, techno-organic particles – micro machines created by Jah, that in unimaginable quantities could affect things. The portal that was used to transport the undesirable members of Congress to Vera – it was made of these bots, as I like to call them.”

Max pointed to the wall and brought everyone’s attention to what appeared to be a rolling ball of death – a sphere with numerous sensors and appendages protruding from its surface. It was the same animation he used to teach anyone about nature, as he found it was the easiest way to get the message across to whomever he was instructing.

“The reality is that, on ancient Earth, we used to call this magic. Well, that’s what we call it these days too.”

“What can you do with this magic?” asked Corning, “and why did you choose to show us this in private?”

“Please, son, allow me to address the kind lady,” interjected Michael. “Madam Speaker, it had been expressly forbidden by Jah to make our presence known on a wide scale. For this reason we met with only a select group of individuals. You must promise to guard our existence as a national security issue. As for magic, we can do anything. Max is a hybrid – his mother is of the lycan genome, while he is my son, so he is half-archangel, in a manner of speaking, although he possesses all of the abilities of the Prīmulī.”

One of the male congressmen raised his hand before speaking, and asked, “Captain Gunnarsson, how have you managed to keep these amazing abilities a secret all these years?”

Max almost started laughing and went over and sat next to the man, a brunette who appeared to be in his early 40’s and fit for one of his age, asking, “What is your name, Sir?”

“I’m Jorgen Bierle, representative of the Valais canton in Schweiz.”

“Well Jorgen, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Being as you asked, I’ll tell you the absolute truth. I had no abilities until I went to Earth.”

“So going to Earth enabled your powers?”

“Well, Earth of the 43rd century.”

“43rd century? How is that possible?” inquired Bierle.

“Time is not linear, as we perceive it. It is more like… the spokes in a classic bicycle wheel. The hub is at the center – that would be the center of space/time, and each spoke is a different timeline.”

“And you have the ability to traverse through time and space?”

“Well, yes. In fact we do.”

“Then why not simply go and eradicate the Vrol before they get here? Go to the past or the future or whenever?”

“It is not that simple, kind sir,” added Michael, “as any unnatural interference in the prime timeline causes a splinter.”

“What do you mean, a splinter?” asked Corning.

“It creates an alternate timeline where that interference is carried through to completion. It creates an alternate reality, complete with doppelgangers of people from the prime timeline.”

“My father is correct. In fact, I was stuck in an alternate timeline for a few weeks a while back. That place even had live Vrol. We currently travel there to train in fighting the insects,” said Max.

Jennie, who had been standing quietly off to the side suddenly interrupted, saying, “It was hell trying to get Max back, and I don’t like it whenever he goes there, but we all realize it’s a necessity for training.”

Sarah Corning gave Jennie a thoughtful gaze for a moment and then asked, “Commander, as I am basically the highest ranking member of our government on Azul at the moment, I would very much like to make all of your brevet promotions official and permanent, but first, may I ask a question? Actually two?”

“Um, sure, ma’am. Go ahead.”

“First, how did you end up in the military? You are so goddamned gorgeous you could have been a supermodel.”

Jennie actually blushed at Corning’s compliment. She was used to compliments, but one coming from such a high-ranking servant of the people was truly appreciated. She couldn’t even manage to stutter out a response, merely shrugging her shoulders and then smiling at Max.

“Okay, I’m truly sorry. I realize you must get a lot of compliments. So for the next question – Admiral Bagatelle stated your full title to be Commander Jennifer Escalante de Gunnarsson. Are you now somehow related to Captain Gunnarsson? Perhaps married to one of his relatives?”

“He’s my husband, ma’am.”

“Oh… I see. But, is that not illegal? Two officers marrying in the military?”

“That’s another thing that’s going to change,” said a smiling Bagatelle. “In fact, here’s something that will blow your mind. The good Commander here was born Jennifer Marie Bagatelle. She’s my little sister.”

“The attending congressmen and women were taken aback momentarily. The nepotism statutes were one of the things that Johnson had not touched, even though he had violated them of more than one occasion.

“And she was under your command for a number of years. Have you nothing to say for that?” asked Corning.

“Ma’am, let’s use this as the closer to our conversation. Jennie was born when I was in the university. Our parents suffered a tragic accident, costing them their lives, when I was in the naval academy and out on a six-month recon training mission. By the time I got back to Azul she had already been placed in foster care, and then lost to me. I searched for her for years, finally locating her when she had joined the naval academy. I placed her under my command, never revealing our relationship to her, and in fact denying her promotions in order to keep her close by.”

“So, you felt you were protecting her in some manner?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And was there anyone else who knew of your relationship to her?”

“Oh, of course, Commander Alicia Vasquez, my fiancé.”

“Another rule broken?”

“Ahem… another rule changed, Madam Speaker. In fact, once we have eliminated the Vrol I would like for limited numbers of families to serve on starships. We are a defensive, not offensive force. And with the advent of faster-than-light travel we are now poised to become explorers.”

Corning nodded her head and smiled. Then, standing up, she approached Bagatelle and said, “Rear Admiral Luigi Bagatelle, in the absence of any higher authority, I hereby grant you the commission of Admiral of the Navy. God bless you, Admiral, and God bless the people of Azul System.”

“Thank you, Madam Speaker,” responded the Admiral.

“I just made that up, but Jorgen, can you record it in the archives, please?”

“Sure, Sarah. We shall do so immediately.”

Bagatelle then turned to Max and Jennie and said, “You two – the promotions I gave you in the Rhönen are now official.”

Jennie got a cute, whiney expression and asked, “What? You mean you aren’t gonna make a nice…”

She was cut off by Bagatelle’s glare, which then turned to a smile as he went and hugged his little sister.

“Madam Speaker, shall we inform Congress that Azul Federal Government is intact and that we shall fight the Vrol together?”

“Yes Admiral, I believe that is an excellent idea,” she responded.

The selected delegates all stood to leave when they suddenly stopped in place, gaining dazed expressions. Jennie looked at them, then at Draagh, Michael and Gabriel who all also seemed surprised. The only Azulian without a clueless look was Sarah Corning.

“What is wrong with my people?” she asked, seeing Max turn around and say, “Madam Speaker, we revealed too much to these people. I have modified their memories slightly. They will remember everything about our meeting except for the parts about archangels and magic.”

“Oh… my. Are you going to… modify my memory also?”

Max smiled and held out his hand, taking hers into his, “No. Someone needs to know, and in the future we shall have need to discuss things of a higher order.”

“Well then, I am honored. Is it, perhaps, because I was Catholic?”

“Why do you ask that?” inquired Gabriel.

“Well, because I was a terrible Catholic.”

“So was I!” laughed Michael, gaining a curious look from Corning as the group left the meeting room.

“Madam Speaker, I assume you are going to put the governmental reformation to a vote, am I not correct?” Bagatelle inquired.

“Oh, of course, Admiral. But rest assured, you will receive a unanimous vote. Especially now that you have removed the most annoying elements in Congress, for which I must thank you.”

“And there’s one other thing… we need a President. We need one quickly. Per the Constitution, if the President and Vice President are both disabled or otherwise eliminated, then the responsibility falls upon the Speaker of the House. Ma’am, that’s you,” added Max.

Sarah Corning had long dreamed of leading her worlds, but not like that. She wanted to run a fair and robust election. She shook her head and stopped in place.

“No. Not me. We need an election in Congress. In fact, I am nominating Jorgen. The majority of our Presidents have been either from Oz or America, with two from Nueva Argentina. It’s about damned time we have a Swiss President. He’s a good man, and he’s one of these … lycans.”

 

Two hours later, the joint session of Congress was preparing to vote on new leadership to replace the tyrannical dictatorship that had temporarily taken over Azul System. Max and his extended family stood on the wings, watching as everyone took their seats. It was an unusual, hastily prepared vote. Never before had both houses of Congress voted at the same time in the same chamber, but their votes were going to be separated, and then counted appropriately.

“All in favor of electing Jorgen Bierle to the office of President of Azul System say aye,” commanded Sarah Corning. She received a resounding and thunderous response in the chamber, followed by a standing ovation. It was a sure thing that her sacrifice would garner her a top spot in the next election cycle, which was what she truly preferred. Still, Jorgen Bierle was not only happy – he was ready to get to work. He was a man of quiet conviction, and had despised Johnson on a level like no other. His mission in life was to restore Azul to greatness. He had no qualms regarding being a temporary wartime President – he simply wanted to win the war.

Max walked up to Bierle to congratulate him on his new position, finding the man most concerned with selecting his replacement in Congress. Max could feel the man’s goodness and made a decision to restore something taken. He touched Bierle on the shoulder, causing the newly-minted President to blink for a moment and then turn and look at Max with wide eyes. He then broke out into a great smile and nodded his head.

“I remember, and I understand why you did what you did.”

“Congratulations, Mr. President. We shall need to work together in order to defeat the approaching alien fleet,” said the hybrid lycan/Primulus.

“It shall be my pleasure, Captain. Just let me know how I can assist.”

“Well, first off, how would you like to awaken you nascent lycan skills?”

“Oh my, that’s right. I am of the lycan genome. How would we do that? Will it take long? Is it painful?”

“Whoah whoah! It’s okay!” laughed Max. “It is a simple inoculation, it is painless and almost instantaneous. Plus you will have much sharper mental acuity, greater strength, and your five senses will be off the charts. But, as an added benefit, you’ll be able to communicate telepathically with Admiral Bagatelle and myself, as well as other command-level officers.”

“Very well, then. If those are the positives, what are the negatives?”

“Well, you’ll have to spend a couple of days away from Azul training to learn your new abilities, and… the full moon is kind of a bummer, but you’re the President, so we can move you out of its influence for the time being.”

“Two days? How much time do we have before the invaders arrive?”

“Oh, two years? Maybe a bit more?”

“Very well,” he laughed, “I shall go forward with the process. Where shall we do this?”

“Oh, this part you’re gonna love. Grab some warm clothes,” said Max.

 

Zermatt, Switzerland, 4268

 

“I cannot believe this. It was nearly a myth in my country. We have images, vids, even holographs, but I am actually here,” gasped Jorgen Bierle, seeing an ancient wonder for the first time in his life.

“Yeah, it’s pretty cool, isn’t it? You know, I could conjure some ski gear for us and slip us up to the top if you’d like. Gornergrat still has many natural and skiable slopes even after all these centuries.”

Jorgen pulled his gaze away from the Matterhorn, one of the most famous mountains on Earth, and gave Max a kind and appreciative smile. He had actually dreamed of climbing that peak when he was a child, knowing it only to be a dream – an absolute impossibility. But there he was, looking at it from the abandoned and nearly disintegrated town of Zermatt. Still, his better judgment took hold and he responded to Max.

“No, Captain. We are here for a purpose, not pleasure. However, may I take a… rain check on your offer?”

“Of course, Mr. President. Let’s go to the Rhönen Dominion and start your training.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter 22 – Welcome, Mr. President

 

Rhönen Dominion

 

Captain Max Gunnarsson and Jorgen Bierle, President of Azul System, walked across a massive castle drawbridge, entering into the courtyard area of King Krynos’ castle. It wasn’t moments later that Jennie and Liliana went running out to greet the man of their lives. However, Jennie stopped and held Liliana back once she noticed her husband was with the new Azulian President.

“Hi Honey, welcome home. You could have told me you were bringing company!” exclaimed the lovely dega.

President Bierle elbowed Max and said, “Don’t hold back on my account, son. You should see my children when I go home.”

Max bent forward and held his arms out for Liliana, knowing he would have plenty of time for affection with his wife later in the evening. The little girl ran into him, nearly knocking him back with the force of her forward momentum.

“Papi! Papi! I achieved a global 3D slip!” she exclaimed breathlessly.

“Lili! Serious? That’s amazing! But you did it with your great-grandfather’s assistance, right?”

“I was only there to supervise, and she wears the tracker, so she was safe, my boy,” said the ancient mage as he approached the small group. “Congratulations, Mr. President. And welcome to the 43rd century.”

Bierle extended his hand, shaking Draagh’s firmly, but looking down at the little girl who had made an incredible claim only moments earlier.

“Captain, I assume this is your daughter.”

“Yes she is. Liliana, I would like for you to meet the new President of Azul System, Jorgen Bierle.”

Liliana curtseyed and then extended her hand to Bierle, surprising him with her greeting.

“Es ist mir eine Freude, Sie zu treffen, Herr Präsident [It is my pleasure to meet you, Mr. President].”

“Captain, are you and your wife not natives of Nueva Argentina? Your daughter has an uncanny mastery of Deutsch.”

“Mister President, I was born here in the Rhönen Dominion; in this very castle, in fact,” responded the young lycan.

Bierle gave Liliana and odd look, obviously attempting some form of mathematics in his head. He saw a girl, roughly eleven years of age, yet Max Gunnarsson was a fugitive from his world for less than two years. Noting his confusion, Liliana offered an explanation in which she had great pride.

“Mr. President, I am the adopted daughter of the Gunnarssons. Still, we all love each other very much,” she whispered to the man.

Bierle leaned forward and whispered back to the girl, while saying, “I can see that. You know, just because one is adopted does not mean they are loved any less; rather, sometimes more because they have been chosen and were not a result of nature. In fact, one of my own children is adopted.”

“What do you mean by result of nature, sir?” a puzzled-looking Liliana asked, full well knowing what he meant, but wanting to see his reaction.

“I… um… erm. What I meant was… um…”

“It is fine, Mr. President. I know what you meant,” she responded with a wink.

Very well, shall we meet with the king of this castle? I would like very much to thank him for his hospitality.” Bierle was happy to get moving along, so he turned toward the obvious entrance into the castle and followed Max, Jennie, Liliana and Draagh.

The group walked into the castle, maintaining a straight line to Krynos’ offices where he would hold private meetings. The door was open and the king was seated, with his heir apparent, Donus, standing at his side.

“Ah, greetings, my friends!” exclaimed Krynos, standing and holding his arms out wide. Jorgen Bierle had briefly seen the lycan king earlier in New Sydney, but didn’t have the opportunity to meet the massive leader. Krynos walked around from behind his desk and shook Bierle’s hand with a generous amount of strength, knowing the man was an inactive lycan. “So, you have come to avail yourself of the gifts of your blood. I say welcome! We shall have a celebratory dinner this evening, and you shall be my guest of honor. After all, it is not often that one has the opportunity to entertain the leader of an entire world!”

“That would be plural, as in worlds, my liege,” added Liliana, dangerously correcting her king, as she so often would do with anyone.

“That is what I said, young one,” the king responded with a glare. “Do you not have some Youth Brigade duties in which to attend, hmm?”

Liliana’s face lit up, as she completely ignored the fact that she managed to correct the king in public, which was a rather rude thing to do. “Oh yes, my King! Tomorrow night we are to practice crossbow accuracy in total darkness. It shall be in preparation for the day when we battle the putrid covens of our vampire enemy.”

Liliana curtseyed yet again, and then ran over to her parents, hugging each one. “I have schoolwork to complete. I shall see you all very soon. And again, Mr. President, welcome to the Rhönen Dominion.” She then did something that nearly shocked Bierle – she disappeared from sight with a light popping sound.

“Where… where did she go?” he asked, amazed at her sudden disappearance.

“Aside from being lycan, our daughter is also a mage, Mr. President,” responded Jennie.

“And quite a fine one too. Extremely rare in this or any other world, I might say. Yes, extremely rare,” added Draagh.

“So is she a Primulus like you, Captain?”

“Oh no. She is what is referred to as a minor mage – a human with magical abilities. Well, a lycan with magical abilities, in her case,” said Max.

“Please! Have a seat, good sir!” said Krynos as he pulled a chair over for the newly minted system leader. Bierle took his seat and Krynos went back around behind his desk. “Oh, and I would like for you to meet Prime Commander Donus, my military leader and heir to the throne of the Rhönen Dominion.”

“Congratulations on your selection, Mr. President,” Donus entered courteously.

“Thank you, Donus. Everyone. I have a feeling this will be interesting – being activated.”

“Oh yes, it shall be quite interesting, good sir,” said Draagh, as Bierle turned to look at him, noticing the Primulus was holding a massive syringe, roughly a half meter in length, its needle protruding out twenty centimeters. Bierle’s face nearly went white as Draagh gave him an innocent smile. Everyone managed to keep from laughing for about ten seconds, when the room burst into hilarity. Even Jennie thought it was funny.

“I am so sorry, my good man,” said Draagh, appearing to wipe a tear from his eye. “Think of it as an initiation gag. It was young Liliana’s idea, you should know.”

Jorgen regained some color in his face and took the joke in stride. He was quite the jokester in his university days on Azul, so he was no stranger to being pranked. “Yes, she does seem to have a mischievous nature,” he added.

“Who? Lili? Naahhhhhh!” they all cried out in unison.

Krynos pulled a bottle of Glennfidich Scotch whisky out of his desk and slammed some shot glasses onto the smooth mahogany top, gaining a wry grin as he did so.

“Let us make a toast – to a new brother!”

“But, I haven’t been inoculated yet,” said Bierle, feeling a very slight pinprick at the same time. “Oh, I guess that means I can have my drink now?”

Draagh winked at the man while putting a small syringe into his coat pocket, and nodded his head courteously. “You shall soon begin to feel the effects of your transition, my good man. Please, everyone – bottoms up!”

“I already feel a bit flushed. But what shall I do when I have completed my transition?” he asked.

“I was thinking we take the President to Hotel California. I need to check up on those guys, and it would be a great opportunity for him to see some Vrol up close,” said Max.

“Great idea, sweetie. I’ll see if Jess and Pandy want to come along,” added Jennie.

“You have captured Vrol? I will be able to see them? These alien invaders?” asked Azul’s leader.

“Captured? No. We’re gonna hunt one – together!” said Max while wearing a maniacal grin. Bierle nearly started to panic when Krynos jumped in.

“My dear Jorgen, do not fret. We shall all be together and you shall not be in any danger. After all, we could not allow the leader of Azul System to be decapitated on his first day as an activated lycan now, could we?”

“Mr. President, you’ll be safe. You’re one of us now,” said Jennie. That was enough to calm him down. He sat back and smiled, looking forward to the rest of his time in the Rhönen Dominion.

“Very well. Shall we give the good President a briefing on territorial security and then retire to lunch?” asked Krynos.

 

Max held the briefing, using infoscreens to show activity all over Azul System. For the most part there was complete peace. Riots had sporadically broken out in Portlandia, caused by inactive ghouls that lived as squatters in abandoned warehouses. However, none other than Gabriel easily quelled these minor outbursts. He had been given permission to terminate any genetic vampires with extreme prejudice, but cautioned to only kill those who were attempting to do harm to persons or property.

Buenos Aires was secure, as was New Sydney. Córdoba, a city with an unusually high percentage of inactive lycans (2%), was the most orderly of all. If there were any inactive vampires around (and there were) they were hidden and staying out of trouble.

As Draagh had telecasted the joint session of Congress to the entirety of Azul System (terminating it right before the vampires were taken away), people were finally made aware that there were different subspecies of humanity. Most ignored the news and merely went about their business, but some were curious and flocked to the local police stations for more information. Fortunately, Bagatelle had created a handout pamphlet, readily available for download on any personal console. It was vague, and didn’t say that Homo Sapiens Canis and Homo Sapiens Mortuus were any more or any less than normal human beings – just that they had ancient recessive, inactive genes. That was all. He wanted the people of Azul System to work together, not look at each other with suspicion.

 

However, Mankind had a storied history of racism, which could easily translate into specieism.

 

“I’m sending a platoon to Portlandia, just to make sure the hippies don’t cause problems. They’re easily led by anarchists and the environment is ripe for trouble,” said Max.

“Can you just send them, and not go yourself? Gabriel’s over there keeping things under control,” said Jennie.

“That’s what I’m afraid of, Jen. He has a tendency to melt brains and ask questions later, but sure – I’ll send out some Haida troops. They have a calming effect on those they meet,” he responded.

 

That evening Krynos was to throw a special party – his first hosting a head of state. Everyone from Max’s extended family was to be in attendance, as were certain Azul senior officers and a certain Sarah Corning – House Speaker of the new Azul Unified Government, who had a seat reserved at the high table, along with President Bierle, Krynos, Donus and Draagh. Before the festivities, Draagh had retrieved her and provided a tour of 43rd century Earth – mostly in the former United States of America, from where her ancestors originated.

 

Central Kansas, 4268

 

After seeing most of the ruins of ancient buildings (almost all having surrendered everything save their concrete and rebar to the fertile ground), Draagh took Sarah Corning to the town where her ancestors lived before they embarked on the journey to a new world.

“Wow. It’s so… flat,” she exclaimed.

“Yes, yes it is, my dear. Quite so,” responded to ancient mage.

“There was actually a town here?”

“Hmmm, yes, approximately 2,000 years ago. Yes, there was,” he said as he lit his pipe, taking care to stay downwind of the House Speaker.

“And you are sure this is where my ancestors lived?”

“Yes, I am quite certain. Max… Captain Gunnarsson did an extensive data search and provided me with this information.”

“Wow. It just seems so lifeless. Well, except for those animals out on the field. What was the name of this town again?”

“Oh, erm… Salina, my dear. Salina Kansas.”

“I wish I could have seen what it was like here when my great-great-great-great whatevers lived here,” she mused. It wasn’t more than a few seconds later that she found herself inside what appeared to be some sort of 360-degree wrap-around vid screen.

“Do not fret my dear. No one shall see you nor hear you. I am going to merely open a window to an active timeline so you may have your wish,” said Draagh.

Sarah’s jaw dropped in amazement as the vid display leaped to life. Suddenly there were people walking all over the place – mostly youths – humans in their late teens / early twenties. Looking around she saw a fancy building with an attractive fountain to its front. A large sign identified the location as Kansas Wesleyan University.

“A college! How are you doing this? Is it archived footage?”

“No, no my dear. This is quite live. Merely at a different point in time,” he responded.

“Oh dear lord! You mean we’ve traveled through time – to the past?”

Draagh shook his head and smiled. “No, not quite. But perhaps this evening, at the party, we shall have a discussion on the realities of time and space.”

“Oh,” she smiled, “I would like that very much.”

 

###

 

Krynos’ parties were so numerous that Max had convinced the lycan king to allow him to construct a more casual area up in the mezzanine, complete with cozy crash couches and coffee tables. He was never very comfortable with being in the spotlight, just like his father and uncle. Plus, Jennie liked curling up in his lap, which she most certainly could not do while seated at the high or mid tables. Add Liliana, who tended to pass out halfway through the occasions and the modest Janice and Ohiro and it was the perfect place for the G Clan, as Liliana liked to call the group.

Max looked over the railing to watch the festivities, which consisted of Lycan Jenga (with both Earth politicians instinctively ducking their heads every couple of minutes in order to avoid flying debris/people), numerous toasts (featuring Max’s own malbec wine, which he had magically helped on its path to maturity) and the Rhönen line dance, which impressed the hell out of the new Azulian President.

 

“This meat has a spectacular flavor, King Krynos. I would like to farm it on Azul. You say it is a healthier red meat?” asked Bierle.

“Elk – yes, and it is much better for the constitution than the meat of the cow. Those lazy, farting creatures, not even worth the hunt,” the king grumbled.

“Yes, Mr. President. Elk is extremely lean – low in fat and is easily processed by the human digestive system,” added Draagh.

Bierle gave him an odd stare, and then asked, “You say that as if you were not human.”

Krynos laughed out loud – boisterously, slapping the alien president on the back. “Of course he’s not, good sir! He’s a god! Did you not know that?”

“A huh… a what? A god?”

“Now, now, old friend. I would not go calling myself that. But I can say most certainly that I am not human.”

 

Luigi Bagatelle relaxed on the couch with his fiancé, Alicia, and she was seated next to Jennie, who had Max on her other side. The two engaged in light conversation about child rearing, with Alicia wondering how Jennie managed to keep Liliana from maiming people on a daily basis.

“Oh, she’s improved – really. Clarisa and Draagh work with extensively,” Jennie happily responded. She looked down at the end of the massive couch where Liliana was sitting upside-down, with her legs up in the air while she had a conversation with Pandy.

“And once we’ve won – and don’t say if. We’re gonna win. But what are you going to do then? Retire your commission and stay here? Or are you returning to Azul?” asked Alicia.

“Here? Hey, don’t get me wrong. I love this place, but we’re going home. And Lili’s going directly to a proper school.”

“Where will you live? Are you going to settle in New Sydney or get based out of B.A.?”

“Not even,” she laughed. “It’ll be Córdoba, without a doubt. Max wants Lili to go to his old school, St. Mary’s.”

“But… the closest major base is three hundred… oh. You have Max,” responded Alicia, blushing upon her realization that modern transportation wouldn’t be necessary for the Gunnarssons.

Jennie giggled and leaned into her future sister-in-law, letting out a deep breath and saying, “Yeah, well he won’t always be around, but I have Pops and Dad and Tío, so it should all be good. Still, there’s something to be said about traveling the normal way. Pulling G-forces can be fun – you know that better than anyone.”

Alicia nodded her head in agreement. Her flying skills were so great that she was slated to be a Draeder pilot, but instead chose to serve on a battleship in the command center, mostly because she was in love with the ship’s captain. Still, she enjoyed taking the formidable fighters out for test flights on occasion.

“Hey Max,” said Jennie to her husband, “Check Lili out. I think she’s done for the night.”

He looked over and saw her upside-down, head lying back over the edge of the cushion, with her mouth wide open and a bit of drool traveling up/down her face. Pandy just shook her head and giggled, noticing the Captain’s expression, which was one of amusement, mixed with aw man I have to take her to her room now.

“How can Liliana fall asleep with such a racket going on?” asked Alicia, listening to the sounds of wooden furniture being smashed below.

“She grew up around this noise, Alicia. She’s been acclimated since birth,” said Max. “I’m taking her to her room now – back in a flash.”

Max stood up and went to pick up his daughter, She started to wake up and looked around, slightly disoriented, drool smeared over her face, and saying, “Umm, yeah. Hunt cannibals… with flowers. Blender… database.” She then lapsed back into unconsciousness and started snoring.

“Be right back. Putting Miss Super-Drool 4268 to bed.”

Max disappeared from sight, but was back on the couch pulling Jennie onto his lap in less than ten seconds.

“Where did you put her, Max? In our bed?”

“Hell no! She’s in her room, baby,” he responded, giving his beautiful wife a wink. The two looked over on the other side of Bagatelle, watching as Michael and Clarisa were uncharacteristically displaying some public affection, intertwining fingers and giving each other light kisses.

“Hmm, it looks like Mom and Dad are an item now, doesn’t it?” Max asked rhetorically.

“I think they’re absolutely adorable,” said Jennie.

“Not my choice of words, but yeah. They fit.”

Max turned his attention to his commanding officer and brother-in-law, asking, “Hey G, do you want to go with us to Hollywood tomorrow? We’re going to give President Bierle a crash course in Vrol elimination and lycan skills recognition and utilization.”

“That sounds pretty official, Max,” laughed Bagatelle. “I think I’m going to pass. Ali and I are going to inspect the Revolution and take that Mannheim kid with us. We’re still looking to bypass the crap that Johnson stuck in the ships. You’ve been working with him on that, right?”

“Oh yes, definitely. Lieutenant Mannheim – Josh – is super-sharp and has been working at reverse-engineering the hook drive gen-lock. This is stuff that was created by someone with a completely different mindset, so I’ve given command of the project over to him. I would probably address the issue from the basis of the hook drive itself, which would be wrong.”

“Max, that’s just delegation of responsibility. It’s the job of senior command. Good job, Captain,” said a smiling Bagatelle. “Just promise me you’ll keep our new President from getting killed.”

Chapter 23 – Vrol Hunt

 

Hollywood, California, Post-Apocalyptic Earth

 

“Noooooooo, Gunnarsson! Why did you get us stuck in a nest?” screamed President Bierle, as the two, accompanied by four Rhönen lycans, were fleeing for their lives, being pursued by more than a dozen ground bugs and a handful of centipedes. To get trapped in that situation was bad, but what was most disconcerting to Bierle was that Max and the lycans were actually laughing as they pulled the new leader along with them. He had only been activated for a day, and was already experiencing amped senses and a wildly fluctuating HUD meter.

“Just keep moving in this direction! We need to get out into the open,” commanded Max.

The group moved to the north, bounding over broken chunks of concrete and rebar, when Bierle nearly stopped, asking, “Just a minute! Captain, do you not have the ability to teleport us from this location?”

“Mmm, yup,” Max responded with a grin.

“Then… then why do you not do so?”

“What would be the fun in that, Sire?” asked one of the soldiers, a massive lycan named Lange, as Max grabbed the President and put the man behind him.

Two ground bugs approached Max dead-on, not even bothering to attempt flanking the lycans. When they were a few meters away he used a gravicantus to drop a massive chunk of former freeway onto one of the Vrol, causing the other to turn and look at its fallen comrade. It was at that moment Max spun Bierle around and shouted, “Now, into its neck!”

The President complied, jumped forward and violently pushed his katana into the upper spinal column of the creature, separating its brain from the rest of its body.

“Aye! Well done, Sire! Truly you are of lycan stock!” cheered another of the accompanying Rhönen troops. He had barely finished his sentence when he spun around and bifurcated an attacking Vrol centipede, slicing the creature in half, starting at what passed for its head (which was actually an ugly maw of teeth, much like a demonic worm with massive, sharp mandibles).

The remaining Vrol decided to peel off and stop their pursuit, most probably having been informed to quit by their hive consciousness. The lycans, still alert, looked around cautiously before taking a well-deserved rest on what used to be a park bench.

“Mr. President, sorry for that. Vrol usually hunt at night, so we were caught off-guard,” said Max.

“Captain, I can understand your dismay, but why did you not teleport us out when we encountered danger?”

Max looked at Bierle and smiled. “You were never in any danger.”

“How say you that? We were nearly touched by the vile aliens!”

“You are lycan, Sire, just as are we. The Vrol shall not defeat Mankind,” answered Lange.

 

Max created an infoscreen that functioned as a sort of personal radar for detecting bugs. Noting there weren’t any nests close by, the group moved in a southwesterly direction, arriving at the Pacific Ocean. Looking directly to the south they saw the ruins of the Santa Monica Pier, which had, centuries before, hosted restaurants, a fun zone with games and an amusement park of sorts.

“So, according to the briefing you gave us, this Earth is a splintered timeline?” asked Bierle.

“Correct, Mr. President. There aren’t any Vrol left on Earth of the standard timeline – all on the ground and in the air perished when their ships dropped the amoebic plague. But here something else happened, and they survived. This timeline has light magic and some technology, so it’s surmised that if the Vrol dropped their killer amoeba the health particles saved everyone, including the invaders themselves.”

Bierle nodded his head in understanding and took in a deep breath, the salty ocean water permeating the air, making it refreshing.

“So, are we ready to go meet some locals?” asked Max.

“That would be fine. But tell me, are we to walk to this… oh.”

Bierle was astounded yet again when his surroundings immediately and seamlessly changed. This time they were standing in front of Seven Sins, Dons’ nightclub. The four lycan soldiers that had accompanied Max and Bierle made straight for the door, knowing there were cold beers waiting for them.

“This doesn’t look as bad as the other areas. I am assuming it is much more civilized,” said Bierle, looking at the repaired streets, buildings and attractive Hotel California.

“Well, it wasn’t this way when I first came here,” said Max. “It was as trashed as the rest of the city. It was just free of Vrol.”

“And how did you find this place?”

“On accident. However, I made some good friends. The two girls you met last night, Jessica and Pandy – this is their home.”

“Really? I would have never imagined. They seemed so much like the… no, wait. They are different, and they do not speak with the accent of the people of Krynos’ kingdom.”

“Nope.”

“But at the same time, you have a slight N.A. accent, and they do not.”

“That’s true,” said Max.

The President was correct, as Max, Jennie and Bagatelle all had slight accents when compared to those of the federal capitol, New Sydney, Oz. However, these were the most common accents in the entire System, so they didn’t see themselves as having accents at all.

“Hey-o, Maxie! Good to see ya, mate!” exclaimed Dons as he bounded down the stairs from his three-level building. Max walked forward and shook the diminutive human’s hand vigorously.

“Dons buddy, so good to see you. I’d like you to meet someone important from my world. Dons, meet President Jorgen Bierle. He’s the leader of Azul System.”

“Sir, it is a pleasure. Umm, would you like a beer?”

“Yes, I believe I would. I have built up quite a thirst hunting Vrol.”

“Oi! You went hunting demons? Sounds like fun! Max, why didn’t you invite me, mate?”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry. Things have been moving pretty quickly in my world, and we needed to bring the President here up to speed.”

“Yes, thanks to Captain Gunnarsson and his companions we have recaptured our government and are preparing to fight the approaching threat,” said Bierle.

“Captain? I thought you were a Commander, mate! Wait… is captain higher or lower than commander?” he finished, almost whispering.

Max laughed and put his arms over both men’s shoulders, leading them to the stairway.

“I got a promotion, Dons. Let’s go have a beer and I’ll bring you up to speed.”

 

“So, you’re a lycan too?” asked Lennie, who had just joined the small group at Dons’ private seating area.

“Yes. It is quite new to me. On my world we had no knowledge of ancient subspecies,” Bierle explained.

“Max has told me as much, yeah. Also that my type isn’t much liked in other places.”

“But what type would that be, good Lennie?” asked the newly minted President.

“I’m what you call a vampire.”

Bierle’s eyes widened. He had yet to see a full-fledged vampire, but knew they were sociopathic even in their inactive forms.

“Hey, the vamps here are totally different, Mr. President. Lennie is a great friend,” said Max.

Lennie just smiled, but Bierle looked at him strangely. There was something familiar about the man that he couldn’t quite peg. Still, Bierle was a politician and knew how to mask his expressions. He lifted his beer mug and nodded politely to Max’s pale friend.

A couple of neko prostitutes approached the group, but were shooed away by the lycan soldiers who found their scent to be offensive. Bierle, a new lycan, was repulsed by their approach, but at the same time was fascinated by them. It was his first encounter of a truly different, active subspecies. Of course he had seen lycan phase 2 battle form, and had seen Max shift to his assassin form, but nekos were on a completely different level. He had yet to see a full-fledged vampire, but Max intended on changing that once they returned to the Rhönen Dominion.

Max wanted everyone to have a good time, so in his desire to keep everyone comfortable he created a scent cantus around the nekos. Even though they had been growled off moments before they again approached, this time with the lycan soldiers basically ignoring them. Everyone else in the club was used to their antics so it was business as usual in Seven Sins.

“Captain, these cat-like females, you say they are called… nekos?” asked Bierle.

“Correct, Mr. President. According to my grandfather they had a habit of killing their males, so the Prīmulī left them to die off as a subspecies, but they survived, even though there are no males.”

“But… but, how is that possible? How do they reproduce?”

“Parthenogenesis. It’s a type of asexual reproduction well known in certain species of plants, invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians,” answered Max.

“So they’re all clones?” asked the leader of Azul.

“Um, no… not really. It’s sort of complicated, but they aren’t clones. That much is certain.”

“Oh, each one is unique, for sure. Just ask the normals around here,” added Dons.

“Normals – normal humans, am I not correct?”

"Yes, sir. That is our common name for humans without inactive or active extra-normal genealogy," said Max. "They comprise of 98% of the total population no matter where you go. It tends to be pretty consistent."

Bierle looked around the club, enjoying the scenery. To him it looked like a lot of humans and a few cat girls, but to his nose it was a different thing altogether. He could smell the difference between his accompanying lycan guards, local lycans, local vampires, nekos and the normals. It was like a smorgasbord for his nose, and he was beginning to enjoy it. However, one thing struck him that he hadn’t considered before.

“Mr. Dons, may I ask why there are no Vrol attacking us here?”

“Dons’ face lit up as he answered the President, “Well, there are certain sonic frequencies they don’t like, and I have a transmitter on the roof of this building. It keeps them out at about a two click radius.”

“Two clicks?”

“Just a tad over three kilometers, Mr. President,” Max offered. “Hey! Speaking of that, Adam helped you to set up that sonic thingy, right?”

“Yeah, mate. In fact, here he comes now.”

Adam approached the group, actually happy to see Max, and wearing a broad grin. He had learned quite a bit since Max had basically bitch-slapped him into submission some time before. Also, as Jessica and Pandy had decided to stay in the 29th century, Max kindly increased Adams capabilities via his magic-enabled wand.

“Hey, it’s Max Gunnarsson! How are you… sir?” Adam slowed down at the end of his sentence due to Dons precautionary glare, the clan leader finding the fake mage to be addressing the son of the Taxiarch with too much familiarity. Even though Max saw what was happening, he didn’t care, and jumped up to greet Adam. He felt the wannabee provided a great example of how an absolute jerk can change for the better.

“Hey there, Adam. I see you’ve been taking great care of the hotel.”

“Yup. Dons made me the general manager, so I give it all my attention. Well, except for when we have events. Then I’m trying – poorly – to replicate your guiso recipe.”

“Actually, it’s not bad, mate. Adam does a right good job of cooking these days. We thought Jessica was gonna stick around and cook, but it seems she’s all tied up with Gabe, eh?”

Max nodded his head.

“And… Pandy? How is she? I mean, maybe I have no right to ask. I mean, I didn’t ask her to stay. In fact, I kinda pushed her out the door. Is she well?”

“Oh yeah, Dons. She’s doing just fine. In fact, she helps to care for my daughter.”

“Young Miss Gunnarsson. The record holder for field Vrol kills!” exclaimed Lange.

“Eh? What do you mean by record holder?” asked Bierle.

Max grew an awkward grin, and after looking down momentarily, admitted, “Well, she got her first kill when she and the rest of my family first came here. Then she got three more a few days ago, after she snuck over during a training mission. So technically, out of all the troops that came for training, she has the highest number of kills.”

“She sounds like a handful, Captain.”

“Oh yeah – you bet. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

 

###

 

“I do hope Papi returns soon. Is he not scheduled to return tonight, Mami?”

Liliana missed her father, but not as much as his wife did. Jennie was starting to suffer from anxiety, as Max had been gone for a full day, and she had been waiting at the castle for his return. Ever since she found him six months after his disappearance she liked to keep him close. She knew that there were times when they needed to be apart, and also that he couldn’t ever be lost again, thanks to Gabriel’s trackers, but that was a small consolation. She loved the man more than life itself, so his absence affected her deeply.

“He’s coming home soon, sweetie. I promise. In fact, why don’t we ask Grandfather Draagh?”

Pops, are you out there?” Jennie asked out over the private family comm.

Why yes, hello, my dear Jennifer. And how are we today?

Fine, thanks, but we’re getting a bit sketchy about Max being gone. Can you contact him and get his E.T.A., please?

Oh, but of course. That will be quite easy, yes, quite easy indeed. Please give me a few minutes and I shall contact him and inform him that you request his presence.

Thanks so much, Pops.

Yes, thank you so much grandfather!

Liliana! It is such a pleasure to hear from you. Remember, we have a lesson appointment tomorrow at 1300 hours.

Yes, Grandfather. I shall arrive on time.

 

Draagh turned back to the small computer he was sitting at, where King Krynos was attempting to conquer yet another level of Tetris, their mutual favorite computer game. The small room they inhabited was separated from the castle and even that world, but their coms still worked between the Rhönen Dominion and the Hub, enabling Jennie to initiate contact with her grandfather-in-law.

“Old friend, you seem distracted. Were you in deep thought?” asked Krynos.

“Hmm? Oh… no. It was Jennie, requesting I contact Max and have him return home. If he is gone more than a few hours she starts to suffer panic attacks.”

“Those long months without him have affected her deeply. I feel for the lass. Still, she is a strong woman, and the two shall birth many fine pups.”

Draagh looked at his friend, wearing a curious expression. Birthing pups was a common phrase in the Rhönen, but Draagh knew that when Max and Jennie did indeed have children they would be much more than mere lycan pups. Still, he didn’t wish to irritate the king by correcting him.

“Yes, I do believe you are correct, good friend.”

 

Max, my boy. Can you hear me?

Oh hey, Gramps! How are things back home?

Your wife requires your presence.

Oh crap! Is everything all right?

Max head mental snickering in his head, followed by Draagh’s response.

Yes, my boy. Everything is quite all right. She merely misses you.

Oh, good. You had me worried there for a moment. Please tell her we’ll be back in a couple of hours.

 

President Bierle noticed that Max appeared to be lost in thought, and put his hand on the young officer’s shoulder to call his attention.

“Captain, is everything well with you?”

“Huh? Oh yeah. Do you remember how we said we’d make it so you could communicate with us telepathically?”

“Yes, yes I do. Is that what you were doing?”

“Yeah. My wife wants us back in time for dinner.”

“Very well. I am actually ready to depart. Shall we be returning to Azul tonight?”

“No, we’ll go back in a couple of days. There’s a reason for it. You don’t mind, do you?”

“Not at all, Captain. In fact, I am hoping that we shall have the opportunity to sample more of that delicious elk.”

Pops, are you still there?”

Yes, Max. How may I help you?

President Bierle wants elk for dinner again. Can you direct the kitchen to prepare some?

Of course, my boy,” the ancient Primulus mentally snickered back.

Max looked at Bierle and nodded his head. “Done.”

“That easy? I sincerely cannot wait until I am able to communicate in such an efficient manner,” said the leader of Max’s worlds.

“Hey Dons, how about some more beers before we head out? Jennie shot me a message and pretty much said I need to get home soon.”

“Maxie, you know it’s always a pleasure to see you, but I don’t blame you for wanting to get back to your woman,” responded the small human clan leader, a sincere grin curling his small mouth.

“Yes, she is quite lovely, Captain. Tell me, how did the two of you meet?” asked Bierle.

 

The group got a fresh round of beers and listened while Max told his story from the beginning, mostly for the benefit of Bierle. One round became another and then another, with Max ending his story with his being found in that very bar. In fact, while seated at that very same couch. Jorgen Bierle had a new, profound respect for Captain Max Gunnarsson and mentally resolved to assist the man in any manner possible.

“Okay, let’s go, peeps. I’d like to help my kid with her homework before it gets too late,” said Max, as he stood up and called his lycan soldiers to his side, along with Bierle. Within seconds they were all gone with a pop.

Chapter 24 – Castle Sweet Castle

 

“Papi! Papi! Welcome home!” Liliana cried out loudly. “Tell me please, how many Vrol did you eliminate?” The young girl was dressed in her student tunic and a long dress, which was unusual for her, and was similar to the more feminine garments sometimes worn by Jennie.

“Hi Lili! I only nailed one. I dropped a chunk of street on it. But President Bierle here got his first kill. He was excellent in the field, and then we took him to see the ruins of the Santa Monica Pier.”

Liliana looked up at Bierle with bright eyes and smiled. “Mr. President, welcome to the club!”

Bierle gazed at the small, innocent looking girl, and asked, “Which club would that be, young lady?”

“Why, the club of… those who… have killed, erm, Vrol! Yes! It is the club for those who have killed Vrol! You are now an official member. May I ask your method of dispatching the vile insect?”

“It was with this fine katana, through the back of its neck, severing the spinal cord from its brain. I do hope that was the proper method,” said Bierle, while patting his sword. He was completely amused with the young lycan, finding her to be enchanting, albeit in a disturbing manner.

“Oh yes, Mr. President. That is the most efficient method,” she chimed, and then curtseyed to the system leader. Then, turning to her father, she said, “Papi, Grandfather Draagh said we are to again have elk for dinner. I assured him it was an excellent choice, especially as we have such a distinguished visitor inside these castle walls.”

“Why thank you, Liliana,” said Bierle, “I am sure you shall become a great leader one day.”

“Thank you, sir. Oh, Mami?” she exclaimed, turning to her beautiful mother, “may I show President Bierle my pets?”

Jennie looked at Max and the two nodded. “Sure honey, go ahead. That is, if the President would like to see them,” responded Jennie.

“I would very much like to see your pets, young lady. I was born and raised on a farm, so I am familiar with many types of livestock, and even had a few pets of my own.”

 

Thirty minutes later, Jorgen Bierle sat at the long, wooden table, quietly nibbling at the barely cooked, steaming elk on his plate. In essence, he was more or less force-feeding himself. He had lost his appetite after watching a live, sentient being screaming, as it fled for his life down a predetermined path of death, only to be consumed by a massive shark moments after having been released. Liliana, however, was happily munching away at her meal, while her parents tried to not laugh out loud. They knew exactly what they were doing when they allowed their daughter to take Bierle out to see the sharks. It was a way of driving home the fact that the Rhönen Dominion was indeed nothing to be trifled with – in case President Bierle got any ideas about who was in charge of Azul’s defensive capabilities. If a young girl would feed live vampires to genetically-modified, ultra-intelligent fresh water great white sharks, then what would she do to an average person who got in her way? And if she indeed did that, how much more dangerous were the adults?

“Mr. President! Thank you so much for accompanying me for this afternoon’s feeding,” the young lycan/mage blurted out cheerfully.

“Ah, ahem, yes Liliana. It was quite interesting. But please tell me, from where did you acquire the… subject of your experiment?”

“I believe I can answer that, my good man,” offered Draagh, seated a few places down at the table. “You see, we found a sun-resistant, active vampire on Azul. There should be no active individuals of that subspecies anywhere aside from here. In studying him I found he is from this timeline, and he was modified on Azul, most probably by a rogue Primulus. It is quite disconcerting. Yes, quite.”

“So you say one of your kind modified the man? Was he a genetic vampire to begin with?”

“Oh yes, and he had been provided not only with the ability to infect normals with his fetid condition, but he was also resistant to light in the ultraviolet spectrum, something unheard of here. Yes, it was part of some plan on a grand scale.”

“So then, may I ask, why, if you had him under control, did you allow this wonderful young girl to wantonly murder him?” Bierle was starting to show his love for liberty and the judicial process. Max looked at him with no small amount of compassion, but also knew that, in order to defeat the Vrol, they would have to act in a savage fashion on occasion.

“Mr. President, this creature was no longer human. He had been horribly changed, and if he were to turn even one person it would spread, and eventually Azul would be overrun by sun-resistant, sociopathic ghouls, hell-bent on conquering the universe.” Max had a look of business about his face, and Bierle took it seriously. Still, the politician had a hard time swallowing Liliana’s actions.

“But, if I might ask, why did you allow your lovely young daughter to use the creature as an experiment? Why did you simply not imprison him?”

Max pointed a finger into the air and created a holographic infoscreen, showing a vid of a particularly gruesome battle, where numerous vampires picked up normal children and fed on them by severing their jugular veins, causing blood to spurt out like mini fountains. But what mortified the civilized politician even more was how they further fed. They all laughed uproariously as they took spoons and scooped out the children’s eyeballs while the younglings were still screaming, and then ate the ocular organs. Bierle stared, jaw agape, and then slowly nodded his head.

“They all must die,” he agreed.

“Yup,” murmured Liliana, her mouth half-full of food.

Bagatelle entered the main dining hall and took a seat next to his sister, kissing her on the cheek as he did so. “Good evening, everyone. Mr. President – how was your day in PAH?”

“It was enlightening, Admiral. I believe I have a better grasp on what we are up against back home. I must say, it is quite lucky that you are able to provide live training against Vrol for our troops, albeit in a slightly controlled situation. That being said, the captain said we were to return to Azul in a couple of days. Why the wait?”

“Well, unless you want to hide in the base on Vera, we have to stay here. It’s the full moon back home, two days long, so we’ll need to wait here until it passes,” said Bagatelle.

“Is there a similar effect on Vera? What causes the change to phase 3?” asked Bierle.

“It is a particular amount of reflected solar radiation that causes a change to the salubots in our systems, Mr. President,” offered Max. “There is an equivalent effect on Vera, but not as frequent.”

“I find that odd – a particular amount of solar radiation just happens to be reflected from a moon – on occasion,” he responded.

“Oh yes, my dear man, you are quite correct. However, nature is as nature does, and it always finds a way,” said Draagh, pulling his hand away from his third helping of elk.

“What do you mean, Mr. Draagh?”

“Think of phase 3 as a sort of system renewal that lycans must periodically go through. It rejuvenates the cells, flushes and sloughs away the older components and allows the organism to start anew.”

“You know, I never thought of it that way! My skin is always so glowing and smooth after turning on the full moon,” said Jennie, with her husband nodding in agreement.

“God, you’re totally right, Jen. I never looked at it that way either,” said Max. “It is like a cleansing. Pops, why didn’t you ever tell me that?”

Draagh gave his grandson a curious gaze, and said, “Because you never asked, my boy.”

Max just shook his head and went back to eating, with everyone else returning to their individual conversations.

In a matter of ten minutes the entire unofficial Gunnarsson clan was seated at their long, wooden table, with all in various stages of starting or finishing their meals. Michael and Clarisa were twiddling fingers as usual, while Gabriel and Jessica were maintaining their typical low profile, but were playing footsie out of the view of everyone else. Liliana was fading fast, frequently leaning over onto Pandy’s shoulder. Alicia joined Bagatelle, and was prompting him to finish his meal and to go to bed.

Bierle found it amusing that he was in such a large family. But beyond being amused, he felt a warmth he had never experienced before. It was an odd, eclectic mix of somehow-related individuals, each with a terrifying amount of power. Despite the fact that he was aware that Draagh and his archangel sons, as well as Captain Gunnarsson had unearthly abilities, he feared Liliana most. She had an innocent savagery he knew was uncontrollable, and he meant to keep an eye on her – especially if she returned to Azul with her parents after defeating the Vrol.

“President Bierle, you have a big day tomorrow. You’ll be going through phase 2 control training, and then some advanced sword skills with Ohiro,” said Max, nodding over to Janice and Ohiro, who were nuzzling while whispering in Japanese. They both heard their names and looked up with inquisitive expressions.

“I understand Mr. Ohiro trains in the way of the sword, but who shall be in charge of my phase 2 control training, as you call it? And of what does it consist?” asked Bierle.

“That would be me,” said Clarisa, “and I will assist you I your efforts to wantonly enter into your battle state, while maintaining your wits. It really is not a difficult thing, Mr. President.” She had taken over the temporary duties after having proven to be an expert at enhanced lycan skills control and, of course, being a university professor. Her methodology was effective and, fortunately, not as brutal as that of the previous instructor, the traitorous Alea.

 

###

 

The following morning Jorgen Bierle woke up with a slight hangover. Reaching over to his bedside table, he downed the glass of water Draagh had given him the night before as a precaution. To his amazement all ill feelings instantly disappeared.

 

Hmm, I believe there could be a market for this concoction.

 

Climbing out of bed, he walked over to the washbasin, and what he saw in the mirror shocked him. He looked at least ten years younger, if not more. His body fat had shrunk away and as he thought about it, he felt a hell of a lot better. He quickly washed his face and underarms, thinking he would take a shower after eating, and leaped to his bed in a single bound. Totally surprised at his increased strength and agility, he quickly dressed and exited his quarters. As soon as he entered the hallway he could smell things – and nothing non-descript. Everything had a picture to it in his head. He saw roasted sausages as he smelled them. He visualized a cat in the ventilation shaft. Moments later he detected Liliana from behind, as she attempted to surprise him.

“Ah-HA! You can fool me no longer, young one!” he yelled as he spun around, but not seeing her anywhere. Slightly confused, it took him a moment to turn his gaze upward and see her standing, upside-down, on the ceiling. She was looking at him with crossed arms and a smirk on her face.

“Scheiße! [Shit!]”

“You are getting close, Mr. President. Would you like to join me for breakfast?” she asked with a giggle.

Bierle nodded his head slightly and said, “It would be my honor, Miss Gunnarsson. But may I ask, how are you doing that?”

“A simple reverse-gravity cantus. Would you like to try?”

“Perhaps later, my dear. Shall we repair to the dining hall?”

The two walked down the hallway, with Liliana releasing her cantus and lithely dropping to the floor after a few steps. They then took a left and bounded down the stairs directly to the main dining hall, where Max and Jennie were already seated and waiting.

“Good morning Mr. President. I must say you are looking quite fit today,” said Jennie, while wearing a kind grin.

Max nodded curtly to his new political leader and held out a hand, beckoning him to take a seat.

“Please, President Bierle, have a seat. Breakfast is about to be served.”

“Thank you, Captain. I must say, I feel extremely… belebt… invigorated, today.”

“No small wonder, sir. You’ve completed the reactivation of your lycan genome, so it’s completely natural,” said Jennie. “The same thing happened to my brother after we rescued him from his prison apartment.”

“So he really was held as a prisoner in his own home,” he responded rhetorically.

“That is true, Mr. President,” boomed Bagatelle, as he entered the dining hall with his fiancé, Alicia.

Bierle looked over, almost startled by the fleet admiral’s response, but knew he should have expected more from the leader of Azul’s naval presence.

Bierle stood up in deference to the admiral and nodded curtly as he took a seat. Thinking momentarily, he decided to ask some questions he previously hadn’t the time to ask.

“Admiral, good morning. I would like to inquire about your house arrest. I have some details, but were you truly imprisoned on false charges?”

Bagatelle gave Bierle an odd stare for a moment, and then responded, “Were you not paying attention when Tech Olsen made his statement?”

“Well, yes, I was… but I…”

“Then you should remember what you heard. I expect more from our President.”

Bagatelle’s statement was harsh, and meant to be so. Liliana nodded her head in agreement, only to have Jennie’s hand redirect the girl’s face to her breakfast.

“Admiral, what I believe the President needs to hear is a direct account from you. Not because he doesn’t believe, but to solidify his knowledge of Johnson’s true nature,” said Max, in between mouthfuls of sausage.

Bagatelle nodded his head and then gave Bierle a stern glance, meant to invite him to agree. The President did so, and Bagatelle took a seat, with Alicia at his side, and began to recount the story of his travels from Earth and his consequent arrest by Johnson.

 

“So, you actually encountered an alien race?” asked Bierle.

“An alien species, sir. More profound, to say the least.”

“That’s astounding,” Bierle responded to Bagatelle. “All evidence of your travels was made off-limits upon your arrest, I’m sorry to say.”

“Of course, my good man. They feared the truth. However, I believe we can provide some footage of the K’Long’nesh,” Draagh interrupted as he sat down at the long wooden table. Then, casually waving his hand, he created an infoscreen that showed the oddly shaped creatures as they skittled around their town.

“Um, so they’re real?” queried Bierle.

“They are, indeed,” responded Bagatelle, having a bit of annoyance to his voice. He had tired of answering questions multiple times.

“Mr. President,” replied Max, “do you not recall how Admiral Bagatelle was repeatedly tortured for information?”

“Yes, I am sorry. I shall cease with any and all questions regarding the veracity of your travels, Admiral.”

“Good. It’s about time. Plus you need to get over to Clarisa. She’s waiting for you,” said Bagatelle.

“I must admit, I am a bit nervous regarding this new training. We are all conceptually familiar with things such as swords, but to access skills long-ago locked away from men – that is on a completely different level,” said Bierle.

“You have nothing to fear. Anyway, it can’t be worse than the way I was trained,” explained Max.

“Oh? And how was that, Captain?”

“I was repeatedly punched in the face.”

 

###

 

Jorgen Bierle entered into the small room where Clarisa and Janice were waiting. Neither said anything, and Janice merely gestured to the man to take a seat in the lone chair in the middle of the room. Bierle became mildly concerned when Janice strapped his arms down, restricting his ability to get up. She then followed up with ankle cuffs.

“Good morning, Mr. President. As you are aware, I am to assist you in mastering your phase 2 transformation, also known as battle form. This can be quick and simple, or it can become an arduous task. It is all up to you. Please look at the wall. Max prepared a vid for your viewing pleasure,” said the beautiful lycan mother of Max. Gunnarsson.

Bierle looked at the wall and was surprised to see a vid start to play with the clarity and quality of any on Azul. He knew from his prior lessons that the vid could have only been created via magic in his current world, making it all that much more impressive. Comically, Max appeared on the screen as the narrator. Jennie had prompted him to do that, feeling it would eventually help him to be a better public speaker. Bierle watched as Max discussed the pros and cons of transition to phase 2 – increased strength, slightly longer reach/limbs, hyper-enhanced senses and elongated canines, as well as a massive increase in caloric burn. The secret to going to phase 2, Max explained, was all mental. It was an act of pure willpower. He also went on to say that if one was unable to voluntarily enter into phase 2, he or she would then have to be goaded into the state – usually via a form of pain. For him it was getting beaten. Severely. As Bierle watched the video he became determined to avoid being beaten at all costs. Following Max’s video instructions, he concentrated, trying to well up a feeling similar to a pang of regret deep from within his gut. That was the best way Max could describe the method for accessing the battle state. In a matter of moments, Bierle felt a burning sensation in his arms, all the way down to his fingernails as they elongated. Something reminiscent of a toothache struck his mouth as his canines grew to sharp points. The increase in body hair was more of a ticklish sensation, as follicles pushed out through his skin. It was less than a minute and he had voluntarily transformed to phase 2, without any sort of violent repercussions.

“Excellent work, Mr. President!” exclaimed Janice, watching Azul’s leader as he easily changed. She noticed he started to look weary, which was a result of burning up his energy reserves. Clarisa quickly put a straw up to his mouth. It was a glass of a milky substance – the nutritional shake, meant to force a massive amount of calories into his system and avoid an energy crash. He hungrily sucked it down, feeling the nutrients course through his system.

“Jorgen, now that you are in battle state, I want you to concentrate on your upper-left peripheral vision. Do you see colored lines?” asked Clarisa.

“Mmm, yes. What are they?”

“They are your levels. One is health, another strength and the bottom one your stamina. You’ll be able to see these while in your day form also, now that you have unlocked them.”

“Impressive, Mr. President! And we didn’t even have to beat you like a rag doll,” Janice joked.

“Well, that’s certainly a relief. What more do I need to learn?”

“As long as you can maintain this state and not go bonkers we should be good after today. However, we’ll need to stress-test you,” said Clarisa.

“Stress-test?”

“Um yeah. Well, you know how Janice said we didn’t even need to hit you?”

“Yes?”

“She lied. Sorry.”

Clarisa punched Bierle directly in the nose, causing blood to spurt out all over his tunic. His face contorted into a visage of primal rage as he struggled against his bonds.

“Jorgen! Control yourself. Maintain your wits. The sooner we get through this and you have control, the sooner you are finished with the training.”

“Ooo, I think he’s gonna pop, sister,” said Janice, while she watched Bierle try to calm himself.

Clarisa slapped him across the face three times, but noted he was still coming down. They both felt badly for having lied to him, but they needed him to be unaware of what was to come for the best results to his training.

“I’m good. I’m in control, ladies,” he said.

Janice grabbed another energy shake and put the straw up to his mouth. Calmly taking down the liquid, he had nearly reached a state of complete serenity.

 

“Max, this guy is extremely good at battle form. 30 minutes and he’s gone through an entire day’s lessons.”

“No way! Well, he did seem to take it all very well. Let’s get him to Ohiro for some sword training, and then we can start working on strategies to fight the Vrol.”

 

“Mr. President, congratulations. I just spoke to the captain, and he says you have graduated to the next level of training. Please revert back to phase 1, your day form, and we’ll get you over to Ohiro to work with swords,” said Clarisa.

Chapter 25 – Reality Lessons

 

Night had fallen in the Rhönen Dominion, and the Gunnarsson clan was seated for dinner. At their table was Jorgen Bierle, who had never felt such camaraderie before in his entire life. He was a politician, and politics was a cruel game of deceit and power grabbing, but he had no such need to play that game with the Gunnarssons and their odd, eclectic group. Seated at the end of the long, wooden table in the main dining hall, he listened as Draagh discussed his concern regarding whom he believed to be assisting the Vrol – the Grigori.

“I have some ideas as to their whereabouts, yes, I do, but it shall prove to be a vexing task. Perhaps nearly as difficult as it was to locate young Max. It is most certain they are looking for me, but if we were to send my sons out… that may give us an advantage.”

Michael and Gabriel both nodded their heads and looked at each other with smirks on their faces. Since their involuntary reunion they had become as they once were – a deadly team that got results, no matter the mission.

“Is there some way I can help too?” asked Max.

“No way! You are not going to look for any psycho archangels, baby. You’re staying right here with me,” commanded Jennie.

Max grinned and leaned up against his devastatingly beautiful wife, not really wishing to leave in any case.

“Max, I have a feeling the Grigori know of you, being as you are from the world they are attempting to help to destroy. It would be best for you to remain here, my son,” said Michael.

“Okay, Pops. I’ll keep myself busy with President Bierle and business on Azul.”

“So you say that these Grigori are archangels, yet I heard you also say they are Prīmulī. Which are they, Mr. Draagh?” queried Bierle.

“Mmm, why, they are both, of course! You see, the term archangel merely refers to a profession; a job description, if you will. Technically, my sons are both Prīmulī, as well as Max here. However, Max is a bit different, having his mother’s lycan genetics intermixed into his genome. For this reason he is called the Hybrid, and shall prove to be quite dangerous to the enemies of Mankind.”

“Aw man, I’m not all that, you know,” Max said with a blush.

“Baby, you’re dangerous in more ways than one,” Jennie cooed.

TMI! Oh. My. God! TMI!” yelped Liliana, fully understanding the meaning of her mother’s sentence. Jennie reached her hand over and gently turned Liliana’s head to her plate of venison and mashed potatoes, while trying to hide her embarrassed expression.

Everyone at the table stifled their laughter, with the exception of Michael and Gabriel, who failed to find any humor in Liliana’s outburst. Their millennia of existence had pretty much jaded them to anything remotely sexual. They had both seen – and experienced – things beyond the imaginations of the majority of their tablemates.

“Father, do you believe that the Grigori have ensconced themselves in the Hub?” asked Michael, having a touch of concern to his voice.

“No, my boy, I do not believe so. They would be too easy to locate if that were the case. However, I do believe they may be using the Hub as a relay for their nefarious activities. We should set up some surveillance, calculating the most likely location of the Vrol fleet from where it was last seen, while paying careful attention to any communications emanating from the Hub in general. One thing is certain – they are not currently residing in the Milky Way Galaxy.”

“Huh? They could be operating from a different galaxy?” cried out Jennie. Being an educated person, she was well aware of the vast distances between star groups. Humanity, with its current and infantile grasp of faster-than-light travel, would never be able to travel from one end of the Milky Way to the other without having spent thousands of years in transit. So going to another galaxy was unimaginable – except to a Primulus who could command the powers of space/time, and transfer via the Hub.

“You know, when this is all done I’d like to visit some other galaxies,” said Max. “Jen, you can come along too, of course. There’s so much out there, and we pretty much have forever.”

“Oh, I’ll go along, but remember sweetie – you have forever. I have a long time, but lycans aren’t technically immortal – just long-lived.”

She brought up an uncomfortable subject that neither had addressed. Max was not only lycan, but also one of the Prīmulī, and that particular component in his genome made him immortal. In fact, had he never encountered his grandfather and activated his lycan genetics he would have still lived forever, most probably without an understanding of why he would never die. However, that was not the case, and he would easily outlive his gorgeous wife. This realization caused a sharp pain to invade his gut, so he put his arm around her, holding her tightly. Unfortunately, this verbalization also affected Clarisa, and Max noticed his parents both become unusually agitated for a moment.

“No, love. We live together and die together. That’s how it is. Without you my life is over,” he whispered caringly into her ear. Jennie knew he was serious, but she was also a logical woman, so she just patted him on the thigh and let the conversation take over.

“So, to go on – they could be residing any place in the universe, but they are old thinkers. It is my belief they are in a local sub-galactic group, such as one of the Magellanic Clouds,” Draagh stated.

“Well, we should begin there. Once in their galactic vicinity we should be able to detect their presence,” said Gabriel, who had been relaxing comfortably with his consort, Jessica. Jennie’s statement about immortality didn’t even affect her. She lived for the moment and was simply glad to be along on such an adventure.

Jennie looked to her left and pulled Liliana’s face out of her mashed potatoes, the child snoring languidly. “Well, it’s time to put this one to bed. Max can you slip her upstairs, please?”

“Sure,” he laughed, as he picked up his precocious daughter and disappeared with a light popping sound. The sound wasn’t caused by his local slip, per se. Rather, it was the sound of air filling in the space where he body had been mere microseconds earlier. Likewise, when someone slipped into a location there was a similar, yet slightly different sound, more reminiscent of a woosh, caused by the newly-arrived body pushing air out and occupying space.

Jennie got up and set down next to Draagh, whispering into his ear, quickly, as Max would return any second. “Pops, you have to promise me. When I’m gone one day Max needs to live. No matter what.”

Draagh gave her a curious glance and then smiled. “Whatever makes you think you shall die, my dear? Please do not fret. All shall be well.”

Jennie was about to inquire further regarding Draagh’s response, but Max slipped back into the room, noticing Jennie hurriedly getting up and going to where they were both previously seated.

“Well, I had to wash her face and put on her pajamas. Jen, I think you’re going to need to dress her when she’s passed out from now on,” he said.

“Umm, yeah. Sorry Hun. I should have told you,” said Jennie.

“Told him what?” asked her brother, Bagatelle.

“She’s gonna hit puberty soon,” responded Max, while turning to his commanding officer.

“Does that mean she’ll turn on the full moon now?” asked Pandy, who had been quietly seated at the far side of the table with Janice and Ohiro.

“Not necessarily, my dear girl, but we will need to keep an extremely close eye on her when the moon reaches its full cycle. That much is certain,” said Draagh. “Ah, King Krynos, it is so good to see you, old friend.”

Krynos entered the main dining hall just as Draagh called out his name, the Primulus having detected his arrival moments before, just as did the rest of the group. The king wore a great smile as usual, and took a seat with his favorite family in the entire kingdom. Sitting in the main dining hall was a rarity for him, but whenever he did so it was usually in the company of Draagh, Max and the rest of their extended family.

“Good evening, my brothers and sisters. I must say I am famished. None would mind if I were to eat my meal in your presence, am I correct?”

Everyone shook their heads, with the archangels nearly laughing out loud.

“This is your kingdom and castle, Lord Krynos. Please, by all means. We have already satisfied the gnawing in our bellies,” stated Draagh.

Krynos was presented with a plate of the evening’s fare, and while he plowed into the meal Jennie brought him into the subject of their latest conversation.

“King Krynos? I’ve noticed lately that it appears Liliana is coming of age. What precautions shall we take on the full moon?”

Krynos looked up with a mixed expression of concern and pleasure. He was, of course, concerned when a child came of age. There was nearly nothing worse than having an undetected youth turn on the full moon and run around the castle. Fortunately, it only happened a handful of times, and Krynos and his sentient companions were able to subdue and incarcerate the youth on each occasion. The pleasure in his face was from a thought in the back of his mind. He felt Liliana would be a powerful lycan, and he had great plans for her – assuming the Gunnarssons stayed in the Rhönen Dominion after they had defeated the Vrol, of course.

“Well, my dear girl,” he began, “with females it is usually a bit later than with the males, and only happens after they have had their first bleeding, so it may be a while yet. Unless…”

Max winced at Krynos’ mention of bleeding. He was still awkward and uncomfortable with many things female, but understood exactly what the king meant. Jennie, on the other hand, quickly reacted with a smirk on her face.

“No, she hasn’t had her period yet, but I’m keeping an eye out. Once she does, though, will she be locked away like everyone else. Like Max.”

Jennie laughed, knowing Max had yet to pass the final test in order to be able to run free on the full moon. Jennie had most recently graduated to the ranks of the sentient when in death form – something only very few lycans ever did, with her being the first reactivated one ever to do so.

Max snickered and nudged his wife. “Hey, I’m not far behind. Plus, thanks to me you all have this crazy new phase 2.5 you can call on.”

“That may not be necessary, Jennie. Each case is unique, and yes, we have your husband to thank for this new, enhanced form in which can wantonly partake,” said Krynos.

“And that is precisely why I believe the Grigori have such a perverted and deadly interest in your world. Remember, they were originally pushed out of Jah’s good graces when they opposed our experiment with humanity,” said Draagh.

“Experiment?” Jessica inquired.

Michael, Gabriel and Draagh looked at each other with knowing expressions, and then appeared to have unconsciously agreed to a response, with Michael saying, “Over billions of years we seeded many worlds with life forms. Some were a success and some ended in tragedy. Even here on Earth we needed to do it a few times. The closer we got to success, the closer these life forms were to us – the Prīmulī. Our end goal was to make a species that would eventually evolve to our state – after millions of years, of course.”

“What do you mean, you needed to do it a few times?” asked Jennie.

“You do not actually believe you are descended from apes, do you? I know I have a tendency, when in a foul mood, to refer to humans as monkeys, but in reality, you are much closer to us than them,” said Gabriel.

“If Mankind is not descended from apes, then from whom are we descended?” asked Max.

“No one species, really. While there is some light Neanderthal intermixing within Homo Sapiens and your various sub-species, you are all merely that, and have always been – Homo Sapiens. The Neanderthals were the last failure in our attempts to seed life on Earth,” continued Michael.

“And what happened to them? The Neander Pals or whatever they’re called,” asked Pandy.

“They died out on their own. They were highly intelligent and subject to emotional overloads. Such was their sentiment, they could not bear emotional pain, and thus that contributed to their eventual extinction. In fact, those bloodlines that have remnants of Neanderthal DNA tend to be more compassionate than those who do not,” added Draagh.

“But what about the Mitochondrial Eve we had been told about ever since that connection was discovered?” Max asked.

“Oh, she was the first Homo Sapiens we developed. Quite spectacular, really, though not much to look at. However, she was a start,” said Draagh.

“So Pops, you made an Adam and an Eve, just like in the Judeo-Christian texts?” asked Jennie.

“Well, we made many, and planted them around this continental grouping. One could not seed an entire planet based on the reproductive acrobatics of two simple souls.”

“Then our ancestors – our Amerindian ancestors from South America – they did migrate over the Bering ice or land bridge thousands and thousands of years prior to our birth?” Max asked, semi-rhetorically.

“Yes, my boy, the Americas, as you call them, were populated by the result of a natural migration. This exodus from Asia also explains why there were no pure-blooded Amerindians with enhanced genetics. We only started enhancing your species many years after that land link between Asia and North America had long disappeared. Your lycan genetics are a direct gift from your European ancestors. Now that is not to say that your native American ancestors were in any way inferior – quite the contrary. They did amazing things, in ways quite different from your European ancestors. They may have never had lycan or mage genetics, but also never suffered at the hands of vampires. That is, until the Spanish arrived at their shores.”

“The Spanish brought vampires to the New World?” Jennie asked.

"Yes, my dear girl. But remember, the enhanced subspecies had long before been deactivated, so by this time they were merely --"

“Assholes,” interrupted Max.

“Hmm, yes. Not my precise choice of words, but I believe my grandson is most accurate.”

“But when did you make lycans and mages and stuff?” asked Jessica.

“Oh my dear, girl,” responded the ancient Primulus, “that occurred when humanity had acquired a sufficient amount of societal sophistication. We waited until agrarian cultures were thriving in many areas of the world. It was then we began to experiment with enhanced genetics. Our first attempts failed, as the lycans tended to kill all normals and then each other, but we first found success not far from here, in the French plains to the west.”

“Just out of curiosity, where was the first failure?” asked Clarisa.

“Mesopotamia,” said Gabriel. “They were… how would you say? Bat-shit crazy? Excellent warriors, though. I rather liked them.”

“Well, we don’t use that term anymore, but yeah – I get the meaning. This is fascinating. I always believed we were descended from apes,” said Max.

“I also believed the same things,” added Bagatelle. Alicia rolled her eyes, knowing Bagatelle never studied genealogy and was merely trying to stay relevant in the conversation.

“So, organized religion. That all comes from our heads?” asked Max.

“In essence, yes, but we did have a hand in instigating it all,” said Draagh.

“Yes. Max, do you remember my brother and me discussing my hammer, as my ghanlo always caused it to return to my hand?” asked Michael.

“Yea! Hey, I do! Was that some sort of religious thing?”

“We have gone by other names in the distant past. One of my names was Thor Odinson.”

“No way. Really? Thor, the son of Odin. The god of thunder?”

“Sweetie, I’m pretty sure the surname Odinson means son of Odin,” Jennie said sarcastically.

“We have existed before the dawn of time as Mankind sees it. What would at once start as a rumor through accidental detection – say for instance, a villager seeing one of us disappearing or bringing up an infoscreen, would evolve into a base form of worship. So, in order to assist man in his quest to unknowingly evolve, we would take on the guise of what you called gods,” said Draagh

“So you were the Norse gods. But what about the Greek gods?” inquired Max.

“Guilty,” said Gabriel, raising his hand.

“The Roman gods?”

“True,” said Michael.

“But then in Judaism and Christianity, who was God?” asked Jennie.

Draagh smiled and leaned back, apparently liking Jennie’s question. “That, my dear girl, was one of the only times Jah communicated with humanity. And trust me, not all were too happy about it.”

“Huh? Why not?”

“Jah is so detached, he tends to just come and go. He did, however, have a great interest in a particular group of people. He spoke with a couple of men, sending them on missions, and then stopped all direct contact with Mankind,” said Michael.

“Um, who were these guys?” asked Max.

“Avraham and Moshe. I am sure you are familiar with their names,” Gabriel responded.

“Um, nope,” said Max.

“Abraham and Moses in standard English text,” said Michael.

“Right! Yeah, I heard of them. So, anyone after them?” asked Jennie.

Michael smirked and shook his head. “Nope, nada.”

“So the popes, the prophets and the televangelists – none of them spoke to Jah?”

We can’t even get a word in with him, and you think some self-styled religious leader human is going to get his number?” Gabriel joked, colloquially referring to a phone number, something that no longer existed in neither the 29th nor the 43rd centuries.

“Okay – the Ten Commandments?” asked Max.

“Jah – definitely Jah,” said Gabriel.

“If you get punched in the face, close your eyes and take it again?” asked Jennie.

“I believe what you mean is to turn the other cheek, my dear,” mused Draagh.

“So should we turn the other cheek?” asked Janice, which caused the three pure Prīmulī to burst out laughing yet again.

“If anyone ever got close enough to punch me in the face I would run my blade through their skull without hesitation. Turn the other cheek, hmmffff,” Gabriel grumbled.

“Why do you look like an old man? Are you trapped in that form, or can you change?” asked Jennie.

“Do you mean like this?” queried Draagh, as he instantly morphed into a likeness of his self, simply decades younger per a normal’s biological clock. He was handsome, to say the least, and actually resembled Max in a way. Jennie, Janice, Clarisa, Pandy and Jessica all ooh’d and aah’d at the same time, while Draagh wiggled his browed and then morphed back to his usual appearance.

“Even though we can regenerate our bodies, I enjoy my current look, my dear. As I am the oldest of this group of amazing individuals, I find it enables me to maintain a bit of respect while amongst the company of humans – normals, as well as mages and lycans.”

“But… hey, tracking back, I was thinking about something when it comes to enhanced subspecies. What about the Haidas? How are they lycans, when you never experimented with enhanced genetics in the Americas?” asked Max.

“My boy, they were separated from this world and their timeline in the 23rd century. They had long before intermingled with those of European descent. Through subconscious natural breeding, they gravitated towards those of like potential. This resulted in a clan of nearly 100% lycan abilities," said Draagh.

“Um, near 100%? So they’re not all lycan?”

“Oh no. They also have two mages within their ranks,” Draagh finished with a smile.

Chapter 26 – Good Galactic Hunting

 

“Max, what we attempt may go awry. I need for you to promise me that you will not leave your family’s side if Gabriel and I end up missing. Trust me – we will eventually return.”

Michael was being completely serious with his son. He knew what he was about to attempt was dangerous, to say the least. After existing for millennia he knew the perils of his mission, and he wanted his son to stay on track and defeat the Vrol, no matter what.

“Dad, I totally get your meaning, but we need you both in order to win this fight. We have no idea how tough they’ll be, and from seeing the videos from Earth they look pretty brutal. Just promise me you’ll stay safe and come back quickly.”

Michael gave his son a loving gaze, and putting a hand on his should, drew him close for a fatherly hug. “I so promise. Please do not worry. After all, I am with my brother, the most formidable warrior in the galaxy – after me, of course.”

Gabriel snorted in feigned disgust, as he pulled his brother away from his nephew. “Oh please, Mija-El. I could kick your ass any given day of the week and you know it.”

“No fighting you two! Got it?” demanded Jennie, who had unceremoniously entered the testosterone-laden atmosphere. All three men looked at the gorgeous female and nodded their heads. She may have only been a near-immortal lycan female, but she was a force to be reckoned with and deserved all respect given to her.

“You two really think I’m gonna leave this smokin’ hot babe? No way!” exclaimed Max, causing his wife to blush slightly, her copper-hued skin taking on a slightly reddish tone around her cheeks. “You two just be safe, and stay in touch via the comm. We’re here for you in any case. And Dad, remember to use what I gave you if you find the Primulus you’re looking for.”

Neither of the brothers uttered another word. Michael reached into his pocket and extracted a relic of the past – a Gurkha khukuri knife, meant for hand-to-hand combat. It realistically should not have been able to fit in his pocket, being over 40 centimeters in length, but Michael frequently utilized a sub-dimensional pocket space for storing things, especially the object that housed his ghanlo. Pointing it to the ground, the two brothers disappeared from sight.

“Um, that was a pretty wild looking knife. What was it?” asked Jennie.

“No idea, baby. But it looks like it can do some damage.”

 

###

 

Michael and Gabriel stood on a precipice overlooking the Milky Way Galaxy. It would have been impossible to describe their current vista to any mere mortal, so impressive was the scenery. They could see not only the current galaxy and home to Mankind, but also numerous related sub-galactic systems. Their first target wasn’t the one Draagh had earlier mentioned – one of the Magellanic clouds, but a smaller, innocuous-looking cluster of stars called the Draco Dwarf Galaxy. It would be easier to start from there, as it was an older system with only small amounts of interstellar matter. Clarity would be akin to rapidity of their search.

The two quickly slipped from system to star system, using the Hub as a relay, so as to not alert their potential target via detection of a massive 4d slip sphere of influence, required for non-Hub direct travel. After hours of exhaustive searching, they moved on to the Carina Dwarf, and then to the Fornax Dwarf. It wasn’t until they had visited seven sub-galactic systems that Michael detected a power signature on a small planet with a breathable atmosphere in the Sextans Dwarf.

“I believe this is the place, Brother,” said Gabriel, receiving a knowing nod from his ancient battle companion.

“Let us arrive without detection, then,” Michael ordered.

 

Planet Tharm, Sextans Dwarf Galaxy

 

The two archangels went through the Hub, and then targeted directly to the location of the power source, maintaining invisibility as they did so. There was a large group of humanoids, roughly analogous to humans, but with bright red skin, four fingers on each hand and tall, slender bodies. Their heads were also oblong shaped, and they all had small, black eyes. Analogous to humans – yes – but not attractive by human standards. All were surrounding a throne made of natural materials and vegetation, the environment being similar to an Earth rainforest. Seated on the throne was a female Primulus.

 

“Greetings, Anaita. We maintain invisibility so as to not startle your worshipers. May we have a conference?”

 

Anaita, who was well known to the adherents of Zoroastrianism, could see her brothers, but did not react physically. However, she did respond mentally to Michael, who had greeted her in a kind fashion.

 

“Hello, Brother. It has been centuries. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“We seek Samyaza and Gadreel. We believe they are attempting to change the fate of Jah’s favored children.”

 

The female Primulus nearly grew a contorted expression, but quickly recouped and grew a cruel crease on her thin smile.

 

“You know I remained neutral in that fight, Brother. Why should I care of the fate of those monkeys? I only concern myself with my own faithful.”

“I count my son as one of them. Take care in your manner of addressing our distant cousins.”

“Yes, I heard you procreated. Samyaza believes him to be an abomination. Why should I choose to assist you in your efforts to find the Grigori?”

“Because if you do not, we fear their plans have only begun. Jah has left our plane and we can only rely on each other. Now is the time to make alliances. I ask you to choose wisely, and come to the side of universal justice, not the side of immortal fear and loathing.”

“I should require more information. Please allow me to take leave of my subjects. Meet me in the Hub, at my domicile.”

 

Michael and Gabriel quickly transferred to the Hub, and were soon standing in the entrance to Anaita’s quarters. A Primulus could make their home appear any way they liked in the Hub. Draagh’s looked like a room in an ancient, medieval castle. Max’s looked like an apartment on Azul. Michael’s resembled a hippy commune from Earth’s 1960s. No one knew what Gabriel’s looked like, except for Jessica, of course.

Anaita’s home looked like the inside of a massive Babylonian temple, complete with gardens and fountains of flowing water.

The immortal female appeared in front of her brothers, having changed out of the ceremonial garb she wore in front of her subjects. She now wore a simple white tunic, reminiscent of the women of Rome at the height of its empire.

“To what do I owe the pleasure, aside from your demand of an alliance, dear brothers?” she asked.

Gabriel took a step forward and uncharacteristically bowed to his younger sister (yes, she was younger than the two), and took her hand, kissing the back of it before standing back up.

“Sister, you know I have sided more with you than with our brother when it comes to the humans. So in this light, I ask that you hear us out. I have recently spent time – a substantial amount – with them, and I find them worth saving. If not for them, then for Jah, who we truly believe will return one day.”

Anaita paused for a moment, and then motioned for the two to follow her to a large room that had numerous statues (of her) and comfortable couches. Sitting down, she waved her hand, causing drinks to appear for them, and then asked, “Please tell me why you believe they are worth sparing.”

 

As time does not exist in the Hub, one could only imagine whether they spoke for an hour or a year, but Michael and Gabriel both detailed Mankind’s history to her, starting from when she had left the Milky Way for the last time.

Anaita admitted she had spoken with the Grigori in the recent past, and discovered that they had misinformed her regarding the state of humanity. She was told that not only had men discovered faster-than-light travel, but they were close to unlocking the secrets of the Hub. Further, they were tinkering with their own genetic code in an attempt to make themselves like the Prīmulī.

“So then, it was all a lie,” she mused.

The brothers nodded their heads in unison, affirming her newfound realization.

“They are posing a grave danger to the entire universe, sister,” said Michael.

Anaita paused for a moment, thinking, and then struck a bargain.

“You do realize we all have… needs. Mine have been long unfulfilled. Satisfy mine and I shall assist you in your endeavors.”

Anaita stood and morphed to her native form – looking much like an angel made of light. Her brother reluctantly also stood and did the same. The three then joined together, creating a brightness so intense it would have blinded any human.

 

###

 

“I am assuming Captain Gunnarsson is to soon transport me back to my world,” stated Jorgen Bierle, President of Azul System. He had dodged the dual full moon on his planet, but knew he wouldn’t be able to do so forever. Still, he was anxious to return. He had a wife and children, and even though he had informed them he would be off-world for a few days, he couldn’t help but worry – and miss them greatly.

“I am sure he will be arriving shortly, Mr. President,” Clarisa Gunnarsson curtly stated, as she attempted to yet again contact Max via their private, family comm channel.

 

“I haven’t heard from Dad or Gabriel in two days. I hope everything’s alright,” said Max, as he relaxed in the massive bed he shared with his wife. Jennie was snuggled up to him, her head on his chest, running her fingers through the sparse, soft hair on his chest.

“Have you tried to contact them via the comm?”

“Yeah, but they haven’t answered. I’m getting concerned.”

“Max, they’re looking for two douchebag archangels in a sea of galaxies. It wasn’t going to be an overnight job, you know.”

“You’re right. Hey, the full moon series is over on Azul. Let’s take Bierle back and get a bead on the situation planet-side. Plus I want to speak with Josh and get status on breaking the gen-lock Johnson put on the side space-capable fleet vessels.”

“Good idea, sweetie. But let’s have one more go at it. I still got the itch, ya know,” said Jennie, giggling as she crawled up and settled herself on top of her husband, cooing as she did so.

 

Round three. Thank god for salubots, he thought to himself as his beautiful wife leaned forward and started to kiss him.

 

“Max! Are you there? Bierle is getting impatient.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m coming already, Mom. Oh, I didn’t mean it to sound like… aw crap.”

 

Max could have slipped to where his mother and Bierle were standing, but he usually chose to use a more human method of travel (when he wasn’t carrying his daughter to her room), especially while within the confines of the castle walls. Approaching the pair, he bowed slightly, and then gave his mother the customary hug and kiss on the cheek.

“Mr. President, please forgive my delay. I was called to resolve a situation, and I…”

“Worry not, Captain,” Birele smiled, “I too had a young wife at one time.”

“Oh, awkward!” Clarisa giggled.

Max turned slightly red, but quickly recouped. “Very well then. We can go through the Hub, and then directly to the Presidential offices.”

“Why this Hub, as you call it?” asked Bierle.

“Well, non-Hub transit requires a massive sphere of influence, and it could potentially destroy your offices.”

“Very well then. Agreed.”

“Bye, Mom.”

“See you soon, sweetie. Is Jennie going to with you too?”

“I’m already here, Clarisa. Please remember – Liliana has classes after lunch. And she is not permitted to go near those sharks while we’re gone, okay?”

Clarisa nodded kindly and blew an air-kiss to her daughter-in-law as the three disappeared with a light popping sound.

 

###

 

Michael, Gabriel and Anaita were all reclining on comfortable couches, recuperating from their ordeal. It wasn’t sex, per se; it was much more. It was akin to a sharing of souls. Ordinary humans would have thought it slightly perverse, but it was not. It was simply the way of the Prīmulī.

“You boys are powerful. I forgot just how powerful you were,” said Anaita, as she sipped on a glass of white wine.

Michael and Gabriel looked at each other with glazed expressions. Gabriel, more than his brother, had come to view anything so intimate as being solely between two individuals, and especially not between siblings. It was less of an issue, for Michael, who had multiples wives in his previous home.

“Have you not lately had corporeal sex, Sister?” asked Gabriel.

Anaita nearly laughed out loud in response. “Did you see those monkeys who worship me? I’ve been around them for the past tree centuries! There is absolutely no way I would bed any of them.”

Michael smirked and nodded. “Yeah, they looked a bit funky.”

“You truly have picked up on the speech habits of your former home, Brother,” said Gabriel. “Do you ever miss it?”

“What? Vegan-world? No way. I mean, I became accustomed to it, but I could never go back.”

“What is this vegan place of which you speak, Michael?” asked Anaita.

“Gabe and I had a bet. He won, so he got to stick me wherever he desired. He chose this offshoot timeline world where animal protein was indigestible.”

“And the humans smelled like rotten fecal matter,” added Gabriel.

“Please, don’t remind me.”

“Tell me, what is so special about these humans. I see no issue with them, although I did oppose them being designed to have our corporeal appearance,” said Anaita.

“Simply stated, Sister, they are better than us,” said Gabriel, causing Anaita to gain a shocked expression.

“How so? I find that to be impossible”

“We are static,” continued Gabriel. “This is what we are. We do not evolve. We do not die, and we rarely procreate. We simply exist and shall be as we are for all eternity. However, Jah created humanity with a slight twist – he made them to evolve. They live, they die, and each succeeding generation becomes better – stronger – smarter. They will one-day reach a genetic equivalency to us – a biological singularity. Then they shall surpass us. We can either destroy them, as the Grigori desire, or join them. It is our desire to nurture and protect them. Our father, Draagh, also feels this way. Then, when they are as we are, we shall all evolve together. I believe that was Jah’s intent. He did not abandon us, as the enemies of his plan stated. He created them to guide us.”

“What do you mean? Evolve to where and what?”

“Do we not need sustenance? Water? Sleep? We have some of the same limitations as these so-called savages. It is our belief that Jah created them to usher in a new evolutionary line – to eventually become beings of pure thought and energy, feeding off the riches of the Universe, and to create new galaxies and worlds where life might flourish.”

“Interesting. How is Father, anyway? I haven’t spoken with him in so long.”

“He is well. You know how much he loves Mankind,” said Michael.

“Does he still wear the garb of a Viking warrior?”

“Oh yes, he surely does. And he wears it quite well,” said Gabriel.

“Do you not miss the days of the Nordic conquests?” she asked.

“I do, a bit,” said Michael. “I loved that hammer.”

“I can still see father strutting around with that infernal eye patch,” said Gabriel, prompting his two siblings to start laughing.

“And what of Sif? You two quarreled over her continually.” Anaita was referring to Dina, another Primulus, known as Sif during the height of the Nordic conquests.

“Well, that was how I got tossed into hippy land,” said Michael.

“Hippy what?”

“Michael and I made a bet. Whomever garnered the affections of Dina would win, and could send the loser to a place of his liking for a century,” said Gabriel.

“And you won, then,” said Anaita.

“Gabe’s more of the rico suave type. She liked that more,” confirmed Michael.

“I do not understand. What is a rico suave?”

“Never mind,” laughed Michael. “Anyway, down to business. Where are Samyaza and Gadreel?”

“They never stay in one location for long, but they are, as you had surmised, assisting the insects, hiding them from your eyes. I must admit, I really believed their story. Perhaps I have been away from my family for too long. I know not where they currently reside, but I am able to communicate with them. However, I cannot do so while you are here. They would detect your presence.”

“Understood, Sister,” said Gabriel. The two archangels stood and prepared to depart, with Michael handing Anaita a small broche to pin on her tunic.

“What is this, Michael?”

“It is a two-way comm that relays through the Hub. You can use it to directly communicate with us, no matter where we are in the Universe.”

“Yes, we need to know their precise location so we may engage in a surprise attack,” added Gabriel.

“I shall attempt contact right away,” said Anaita.

The brothers nodded curtly to their sister, and then disappeared.

 

###

 

Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, looking down at the Colorado River as it mightily flowed through the massive crevice in the Earth’s crust, Michael turned to Gabriel and smirked.

“Did you detect them?”

“I could smell them. Maybe an added benefit from passing so much time with a lycan female,” said Gabriel.

“Shall we kill her?”

“No, not yet, Brother. She may still prove useful.”

 

###

 

“Idiots. Now we can trace their very conversations!”

Gadreel laughed as he handled the broche Michael had given to Anaita. “They believed your ruse. Honestly, I am amazed.”

“So I did well, my cousins? I told you I would not fail. And their story – their theory of the evolution of humanity. Please! Who would be so foolish as to believe such a tale?”

“I am so going to enjoy eliminating our uncle, the most formidable and unquestionable Draagh. Then we shall retrieve Father from his prison in Purgatory, after we’ve killed the Hybrid first, of course. Father will need to reclaim his ghanlo,” said Samyaza.

The three sat back and laughed uproariously, all believing their master plan to be going on without fail.

 

###

 

Max was sitting at the family table in the castle, along with the rest of his clan when he received a ping from his father – informing him that they were on their way. He had spent the entire day with his wife in New Sydney, and was tired, to say the least. In a matter of moments, the two archangels strode into the main dining hall, immediately greeted by their lovely consorts.

Sitting down next to Max, Michael was presented with a plate of roasted pork – a rarity in the Rhönen.

“So, did you find her?” asked Max.

“Yes, Max. We did.”

“And did you give it to her?”

“Indeed. She accepted it without question.”

“Max, what are you talking about? Are you guys doing secret stuff again?” asked Jennie, her face contorting in disbelief.

Max and Michael looked at each other, and then at Gabriel, who had taken a seat next to Jessica. The three burst out into laughter, with Max stopping as soon as he felt Jennie’s fingernails dig into his thigh.

“Okay! Okay! I made a modified comm for them to give to their sister,” he squealed.

“Modified? In what way,” asked Bagatelle, knowing if Max did something it would probably be pretty amazing, even by Prīmulī standards.

“I made it leaky.”

“Leaky?” everyone cried out in unison.

“Max came to me with a plan right before we left. I had earlier confided in him that we would not be directly hunting the Grigori, but looking for their potential allies. Our sister was on that list. So he created a comm that spills sub-dimensional tracking particles onto anything it touches. These particles then casually invade the target’s system and reside as if they were part of the normal Primulus cellular structure. Anyone who touches the comm is, for lack of a better term, infected,” said Michael.

“But salubots, as Max calls them, do not detect the tracking particles as an invading, foreign agent, and simply leave them alone. I am pleased to say I assisted my grandson with that bit of engineering,” stated Draagh, while wearing a large grin.

“So you have access to whomever touches the modified comm?” Bagatelle queried.

“We can track them, yes,” said Gabriel.

“But here’s the capper. They can’t trace our comm signals. The device throws out fake communications, all appearing to be scrambled. They’re actually recordings of older conversations of us repairing the castle’s sanitary systems,” added Max. “However, if we choose to actually speak with the device holder we can.”

Draagh swiped his hand in the air, causing an infoscreen to appear. It was a beautiful, translucent white, with mappings of the Milky Way Galaxy, as well as the nearby minor galactic groupings. He immediately saw three dots on the map. Zooming in, one was on the world where Michael and Gabriel had encountered their sister, one was on Earth, and the other was on a planet in the Hercules Dwarf Galaxy.

“Ah, here we are. They appear to be hiding within a critical amount of dark matter. Hercules is famous for this,” said Draagh.

“Are you certain it is them, Father?” asked Gabriel.

“Well, unless they swapped places with your petulant brat of a sister, I would say so. Did you not state that at least two of the Grigori were nearby, and possibly even inside Anaita’s domicile?”

“We detected their scent, yes,” said Gabriel, “although not their energy signatures.”

“Hey, why didn’t you ever tell me you had a sister?” Max asked his father.

“Well… you never asked, Max.” It was all Michael could come up with, not having any excuse otherwise. But he knew he would eventually have to introduce Max to all of his aunts and uncles, of which there were many.

“And the blip on Earth? That’s one of us, right?” asked Jessica.

“Yes, that would be me,” said Michael. “I shall need to cleanse myself of the errant particles lest we register a false readout in the future.”

Draagh smirked as he slid a large mug of mead to his eldest son. “Here, my boy. Drink this. It shall purge your system of the tracker particles.”

Chapter 27 – Blind Breakfast

 

 

“I cannot see. Where are we? What have you done?”

 

Len Johnson, former Azulian dictator, was in a haze, unaware of his location in the space and time. He was blind, deaf and dumb. He could only reach out with his mind. He recalled being able to see out of the ship at some point in time in the past, but he no longer possessed that capability. There was only black loneliness.

 

“We have done nothing. We are as one with us. Strop struggling against the collective. We are all Vrol now.”

 

Johnson thought about his missing son. His only progeny, heir to his empire. He wanted to escape his bonds, find his son and together the two would conquer the arrogant, self-righteous bastards that had made Azul System into such a weak collection of worlds. He had a new, purified Earth to return to, but first he had to escape. But even his emotive trace thoughts were detected by the hive mind to which he was connected.

 

“Escape is not possible. Resistance is not an option. Submit to the collective. Our cause is just, our goals attainable. We shall not be defeated. Thank you. Thank us. We are one.”

“Where is my son? Where is my pilot? I must leave.”

“We have no son, we have one pilot, one mind. We are one.”

“Oh sharga, what have I done”?

“We shall eliminate the humans from the galaxy. Thank us, we thank us.”

 

The slow, lumbering mass of millions of vessels, most more than a half kilometer in length, cruised along at speeds significantly slower than light. Joined techs, resembling beetles, worked furiously, attempting the integrate Johnson’s tiny vessel into a massive, organic superstructure that would carry the entire conjoined fleet through side space. From there they would go onto Azulian space, enabling them to initiate an immediate attack on Mankind. Johnson, due to his impatience, had unwittingly ended up serving the entire human race on a giant silver platter to the greatest enemy man has ever known.

 

“Where is X’than’dor? I must speak with him immediately.”

“Him? We have no gender; we are as one. X’than’dor describes Vrol to those not of the collective. Submit to Vrol.”

 

Johnson tried to clear his mind and to think of nothing at all. If anything, the man was a study in mental acuity. His mind, although sociopathic, was razor-sharp and he was keenly aware that he was not in control at the current moment. He just imagined seeing outside – just seeing blank space, ships, and then his own ship.

He saw his craft, surrounded by a massive, organic structure that apparently had been grown around the vessel. The ship itself was buried deep inside a larger ship. Pulling his view back he determined it was the Brood Carrier – the largest ship in the fleet, and near the size of a normal moon. Whenever he saw something Vrol he imagined beautiful thoughts. He emoted pleasurable feelings. He attempted to keep his mental guardians off-track. He was Len Johnson, and he would be reunited with his beloved son Ryder, and together they would conquer the galaxy.

 

###

 

“Yeah, right! Three aces! Three of a kind! I win!”

Alicia slapped her hand down onto the wooden table top, displaying her three cards, while showing fangs. She was so excited at finally getting a winning hand that she involuntarily shifted to phase 2, her battle form. Bagatelle gently stroked the back of her neck, which was now covered in hair and functioning as a mane. With some deep breaths she calmed herself, and her body gradually shifted back to phase 1, her extra hair and fur retracting back into her body.

“G, I finally win a hand and I go puppy on everyone,” she said disappointedly, pushing a canine back up into her gum.

“No, sweetie, don’t be upset. I dropped my toothbrush the other day and nearly went phase 2.5.”

“Oh my god, are you serious?”

“Yes, but don’t tell anyone. We can’t have the Admiral of the navy looking out of control now, can we?”

“Hmmm, only if he’s out of control with his soon-to-be wife.”

Alicia gave him a glare, suggesting he better start with planning their nuptials sooner rather than later. She was a military woman, and if she were to wait for every emergency to ever befall her home world she would die an old maid. And that was saying a lot, as she was targeted to live for thousands of years.

They heard a knock at their door, and the scent told them it was Jennie. She frequently visited them during the daytime, as she was intensely involved in preparations with Azul’s fleet. If it wasn’t Max ferrying them back and forth, it was Draagh. However, he had created a permanent portal between the base on Vera and Bagatelle’s private offices in New Sydney. If they were in a bind and needed to leave right away, yet could not find a Primulus, they had the option of using King Krynos’ sub-dimensional office to get to Vera. Draagh had promised to create a direct portal for them, but had yet to do so.

“Good morning, loves. Slept well?” asked Jennie.

“Yes, we did, Hun. Check this out! I finally beat G at poker!” Alicia was still excited, so she excused herself, got up and went to the restroom in their quarters.

“We were playing blackjack. Just don’t remind her,” whispered Bagatelle.

“Oh, not a winning hand,” Jennie whispered back.

Her brother nodded and grinned. He wasn’t one for smiles and such, but when he did show happiness it was real.

“Brother, we need to get back to Azul and start working. I am more than comfortable with leaving Liliana in the care of Clarisa and Draagh. As long as they’re here I’m good.”

“Let’s go this afternoon. I need to check out Portlandia. They’ve been acting like retards lately. Johnson had them so strung out on free mind-meds they’re all in a state of perpetual idiocy.”

“Did the Haida troops manage to clear out the abandoned warehouses where the kids and the gen-vamps were squatting?”

“To a certain extent. We stopped short of bombing them.”

“It would only take one. We could have Max project infoscreens in all inhabited buildings and show them the destruction of one. They would scurry like rats.”

Bagatelle liked his sister’s thinking. He wasn’t fond about using arms against the populace, but Johnson had created such a mess it couldn’t really be avoided. He determined he would do so, in limited fashion, and hope for the best results.

Alicia exited the restroom, a smile of her face and flush from her recent victory at poker. Bagatelle took the deck of cards and stowed it away with the chips. He then stood up, indicating he was about to great ready.

“Ali, have you already showered and stuff?” asked Jennie.

“Yeah, a bit ago. Why?”

“Let’s go have breakfast while Mr. Muscles here gets ready.” Jennie winked at her brother and took his fiancé by the hand, leading her out the door and on to the main dining hall.

Jennie had been under Alicia’s command for a number of years, and although Vasquez knew Jennie was the younger sister of her secret lover, she wasn’t able to say a thing. She even found it unjust that Jennie was also a junior officer. Commander was the first level in the senior officer bracket, and they were both now of equivalent rank. As an added benefit, they could be friends without the formalities of rank submission.

The two rounded a corner when they were suddenly approached by Liliana, who was wearing a concerned look on her face.

“Good morning Tía. Mami – I need to feed my pets. Please let me go feed them,” she pleaded.

“Sweetie, you know Prime Commander Donus and his team are taking care of them.”

“I know, and he promised he would capture some more ghouls for me too! But I miss them so…”

“Oh yeah, Lili. How did you experiments go? Which vampires were the fastest?” asked Alicia.

“Oh the ones of the lower castes for certain, Tía. They moved much more quickly as the sun was cooking them with every step they took. I believe it was almost an involuntary reaction.”

“And the one from Azul? How did he do?”

“Oh, quite poorly, I must say. He was almost jogging along the path. Hermes toyed with him a bit, and then breached beautifully and swallowed the fetid wretch whole.”

“I just hope he didn’t turn anyone before Draagh got him,” said Jennie. Liliana got a small look of concentration on her face.

“What’s the matter, sweetie? Everything all right?” asked Alicia.

 

If he did turn any, I will find them, once we have eliminated the insectoid scum from the galaxy, the girl thought to herself.

 

“Oh yes, Tía! Everything is quite all right! Shall we enjoy breakfast together?” Liliana grabbed the women’s hands and led them down the stairwell to the main dining hall.

 

###

 

Admiral Luigi Bagatelle looked in the steamed-up mirror, trying to decide whether he should shave his beard off completely, trim it down, or make it into a goatee or a mustache. In the end, he decided to keep the beard. It made him look bad-ass, as Max had previously said.

 

The entire system is back under control, aside from Portlandia. I hate that place. I wonder why they are so difficult.

 

Bagatelle finished cleaning up and set out for the main dining hall. Upon arrival, he saw Jennie, Alicia and Liliana all half-finished with their meals. Summoning a servant, he was presented with a plate of duck eggs, chorizo sausage and hash brown potatoes. He pulled a bottle of hot sauce out of his pocket – something he brought along from Azul. Even though his culture customarily avoided spicy foods, he had come to enjoy some heat with his meals, being a fan of ancient Peruvian cuisine. Generously pouring the red sauce over his eggs and potatoes, he noticed Liliana watching him with a gaze of fascination.

“Tío, why do you always put hot sauce on your food? Does your tongue not function correctly?”

Bagatelle smirked and looked over at the ladies, both having expectant expressions on their faces. “Well, Lili, it’s not that. I simply like my food to be more powerful.”

“Powerful? Oh, it gives you strength? I shall try it then!”

“Lili! No!” yelped Jennie, but it was too late. The little girl had taken Bagatelle’s bottle and dumped a massive splotch onto her potatoes and quickly ate them up. The ladies looked at her, only to see a delayed reaction. She sat there for a moment, wearing a pleasant grin, when suddenly her face turned beet red and she started gasping for air.

“Ahhhhhhhhhh, shit!” howled Liliana, as she jumped up and ran to a different table, pulling a water mug out of a soldiers hand and downing it like a frat boy on pledge night.

“Gahhhhhh! That does not give one strength! It is most vile!” she bellowed, before turning away from the table and vomiting her breakfast onto the open floor.

“Oh baby, here, try this,” said Jennie, quickly going to her daughter and giving her a mug of milk. “The alkali in the milk will neutralize the capsaicin. You need to ask before trying things, Lili.”

Liliana sipped the milk, which brought instant relief to her burning mouth and helped to settle her tiny stomach – for a moment.

“Tío is truly a warrior. Anyone who can ingest that burning sauce is… is…”

And up went the milk, layering over the same spot where her breakfast had gone. Jennie started to look worried, but Draagh fortunately entered the hall and immediately tended to his adopted great-granddaughter.

“Liliana, my dear child, we must take care with what we put into our mouth. Now sip on this,” he said as he handed her a small vial. Liliana drank the clear liquid without hesitation.

“What was that, Pops?” asked Jennie.

“I have a number of remedies readily available. Do you not remember my cure for the hangover you suffered when you first came to this world?”

Jennie nodded her head, remembering the evening she had first experienced jealousy over Max. Alea, the former (and traitorous) lycan skills instructor had whispered something into his ear at dinner, causing him to blush. She had felt instantaneous rage, so instead of fighting with the woman, she jumped over to a table full of lycan soldiers. They then proceeded to do shots of the Rhönen’s signature distilled beverage, unfiltered schnapps. She had experienced hangovers before, but never one of that magnitude. The following morning Max found her, nearly incapacitated in the hallway near her door, but instead of chiding her, he helped her up and kindly took her to his grandfather for a cure.

“Yup, and I haven’t tried schnapps since then. Nasty stuff.”

“Jennie, you don’t like schnapps? It has a better taste than that horrible Fernet Branca you like to drink,” said Alicia.

“Yeah, well, I think I’ll have a Fernet and Coke when we get back to Azul. Speaking of that, are we ready to go once G finishes his breakfast?”

“I’m almost done, little sister.”

“Mami, I am so sorry for ingesting Tío’s hot sauce. I feel much better now.”

“That’s okay, sweetie. Now you know not to put strange things on your food.”

Liliana nodded her head enthusiastically and took her seat next to her uncle, watching as some servants cleaned up her mess, covering their mouths and noses as they did so.

“Sorry!” she yelped, sincerely feeling regret. She had come to have more respect for the castle servants, especially as she was fortunate enough to have been adopted by Max and Jennie. If not for them, servitude would have most probably been her career path within the confines of the Rhönen Dominion.

“Jennie, just so you know, I have created a barrier around the moat and the feeding cages that will prohibit young Liliana from getting anywhere near the sharks. You may go to your world in peace,” Draagh kindly informed his granddaughter-in-law.

“Thanks, Pops. That’s a real relief. I get so worried. I mean, if she’s trying to chug hot sauce who knows what else she’d be willing to try?”

Max entered the dining hall, mate gourd in hand and dressed in his standard blue camouflage naval field uniform, now sporting quadruple gold stripes on his shoulder, denoting his new rank of Captain.

“Ooh, baby! Don’t you look official now?” Jennie cooed.

“It’s just one more stripe, Love. No big deal,” he responded as he sat down next to her. “Hey Lili! Good morning!”

“Good morning, Papi. I tried Tío’s hot sauce on my potatoes.”

“Oh, really? And did you like it?”

“No. I blew chunks.”

The young lycan’s colloquial response nearly caused Max to snort yerba mate out through his nose, but he maintained his composure, wanting to appear compassionate.

“Hmm, well, that happened to me the first time I tried some too. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Anyway, I believe you classes, am I not correct?”

“Yes, Papi. Are you and Mami and Tío and Tía going to Azul today?”

“We are, sweetie. We’ll see you tomorrow. While we’re gone you are to go to classes and then directly to your abuelita,” said Jennie. Clarisa was an excellent caretaker, and had been working at civilizing the young girl, with some success.

“Of course!” Liliana jumped back up and kissed each of her relatives on the cheek before bounding off to her morning lessons.

“Wow, what a handful. But I’m sure she’s totally worth it,” said Alicia. “I’d like to have a child one day, if I ever get married, that is.” She gave Bagatelle a look with one eyebrow cocked up, as if expecting some form of a response. The Admiral merely grinned and went about finishing his meal.

Chapter 28 – Portlandia

 

The four Azul naval officers were seated at a round table in Admiral Luigi Bagatelle’s office in New Sydney, going over a digital, tabletop map of Portlandia. It had numerous dots of light on it, denoting the locations of illegally inhabited warehouses, long ago abandoned. The city, despite its beauty and numerous salt-water ports, was an economic mess. It was the one place in all Azul System where fiscal irresponsibility was not only tolerated; it was actually encouraged. Johnson had taken a bad situation and made it worse, virtually drugging the population into submission. It was something that the new Azul government would have to address sooner rather than later.

“So I think we should destroy this warehouse here. There is no one inside, but I can drop infoscreens into the populated ones and give them a show they’ll never forget. That should cause them to vacate pretty quickly,” said Max, pointing to one of the dots.

“That was my idea, you know,” added Jennie. “Actually, I wanted you to hit one with a few losers in it. Nothing like a bit of carnage to awaken the sensibilities.”

“Jen, I can understand your intentions, but we really can’t go about wantonly slaughtering innocent civilians,” said Bagatelle, who received an approving nod from his fiancé.

“But what if they were gen-vamps? Or even activated ones? God help us if that clown we captured had turned anyone,” responded Jennie.

“We have ways of detecting them, Jen,” said Max, adding a bit of finality to his tone.

“Very well, then. How shall we get there? A shuttle or the Gunnarsson Express?” asked Bagatelle.

 

###

 

Max slipped the group to the stairs leading up to City Hall in Portlandia. Garbage was gently blowing in the streets, and it was obvious the city had previously experienced a complete meltdown. There was no one walking on the streets, and bringing up an infoscreen, Max showed his group that most everyone was inside their homes. Even City Hall was empty. Businesses were closed, which was unfortunate, as Portlandia wasn’t an agrarian town – it was based on government-supported and sponsored commerce. That meant there was going to be a lot of hungry people. No open stores equaled no food. None.

“Man, they sure screwed this place up,” said Max. “It reminds me of Athens after the riots in the early 21st century.”

Graffiti was everywhere, on nearly every building. Phrases like Power to the People and Free Food is a Human Right were frequently used, along with archaic gang writings, nearly indecipherable to the officers.

“Man, they just don’t get it, do they?” asked Alicia.

“This place? They want everything for free and to sit around making crap art while drinking coffee,” Jennie responded.

“I’ve seen some pretty good pieces of art from here before,” said Max.

“Yeah Max, but how many artists created those pieces? Two? Maybe three? Just because art is something anyone can do doesn’t mean it’s good. You have to provide a sellable and marketable product, not just piss in a jar with a crucifix in it and then demand 5,000 pesos,”

Max was pleasantly surprised at his wife’s response. She was a product of military life, and being such, had previously lacked market sensibilities or a grasp of commerce. Plus, he enjoyed her reference to a 20th century art display that had nearly half of the former U.S.A in an uproar.

“Okay, team. Let’s get moving. Max, we have troops coming in at 0900 hours. That’s 15 minutes from now. We need to get everyone out of those warehouses right before they arrive,” said Bagatelle.

“Which troops are you bringing in, Admiral?”

“The Samurais. They’re quick and efficient. We can’t mess around with these clowns anymore.”

 

Max cleared out some space for himself and waved his hand out, creating a number of infoscreens, all viewing an empty warehouse. Whipping his hands up into the sky, the magical displays shot off and went to their individual destinations, dropping down perfectly in front of groups of people in inhabited structures. But Max had a trick up his sleeve. He made it appear that there were people in the displays. Numerous disheveled vagrants walked up to the screens, looking at them curiously. As soon as Max knew he had their rapt attention he dropped a small boulder on the vacant building in the view, mimicking the effects of a mass driver dropped from outer space.

The building was vaporized. Instantly. In its place was a crater the size of a city block. It was all he needed to do.

Hundreds of squatters panicked and ran out into the streets. Once they were all out, Max performed a complex barrier cantus that virtually locked them out of the warehouses. It was at that moment that dozens upon dozens of ground troops, led by Isamu’s Samuari, came pouring out through a portal from Vera. They were supported by numerous gunships, hovering over the crowds, the noise from their anti-grav engine creating an ominous roar.

Clean up was easy. In fact, there was no resistance whatsoever.

“Brave souls when they have spray paint cans and a police force unwilling to quell rebellion, eh?” mused Bagatelle.

“Yup, and no chanting stupid slogans either,” said Max.

 

The troops rounded up all of the vagrants in an orderly fashion, and led them down Oak Street toward the temporary housing that had been set up earlier. It was there they would be processed, tested for extra-genetic qualities, given a Prīmulī antidote for their drug withdrawals, and then provided with simple chores in a structured community. It was Max’s plan to ease them back into the fold. He knew they would fail if they simply set them out into the streets. These people needed to once again find purpose and leave their excuses and addictions behind.

 

“Now we need to find out who the shop owners are. We can give them a hand with supplies, as I’m pretty sure they’re all wiped out,” said Bagatelle.

“Harder even, we’ll need to find out who the original store owners were,” said Max, “as I’m sure they had their properties confiscated by the local government all in the name of fairness and equity. They need to be reimbursed and given the opportunity to run their own shows again.”

“Some of the older women of the Haida tribe volunteered to manage commerce, and to make sure there’s no price gouging by the store owners,” added Alicia.

“I think they would be perfect for the job,” said Jennie.

 

###

 

Back in Bagatelle’s office at Blue Mil, the four naval officers were seated again at the round table in the middle of the room. However, this time they were joined by Jake Williams, who had been functioning as chief of police of the second-largest city on the planet and was slipped over for the meeting.

“So, we’ve only experienced the usual – a couple of looting incidents, mainly on the homes of the gen-vamps who were incarcerated. And other than a couple of air car crashes, all is peaceful in the city.”

“That’s certainly great news, Chief. I knew you would do a standup job when you volunteered for the position,” said Bagatelle. “We four have a special spot in our hearts for Buenos Aires, being the capital city of the country of our birth. That being said, we now go to phase two. We need to start reinforcing some public structures and underground shelters. This won’t be your job, per se, but you will need to assign some officers to make sure building supplies aren’t stolen. We’ve already created a staging point in Puerto Madero.”

“No problem, Admiral.”

Bagatelle touched a small panel and the tabletop became a beautiful, three-dimensional white map of Buenos Aires. It already had glowing dots in seven locations.

“We’ve already pushed these locations to your personal console. The SeaBees are bringing in their construction gear starting tomorrow morning.”

“Who are these SeaBees, Admiral?”

“They’re the naval construction battalion, Chief – a very old and respected segment of the Navy, dating back to hundreds of years before the Exodus to Azul. They’ll reinforce superstructures and underground housing with hardened quadrinium and hypercrete.”

“Hypercrete?”

“Molecularly-altered concrete, 35 times stronger than normal. We’ve been using it for building for the past 50 years. Unfortunately, most of the buildings in the main cities are much older than that.”

Max walked off to the side of the room to call on his father. Even though it was telepathic, he still felt it was polite to not look as if he were zoning off or daydreaming in front of everyone, as that was the typical expression one had when in the midst of a comm call.

 

“Dad, how goes the hunt for the Grigori?”

“We determined which planet they were on, but they fled once we arrived. Anaita also went with them.”

“Is that bad? I mean, she’s a Primulus and all, but is she a formidable warrior?”

“It is not that, Max. It is that she is our sister. It shall pain us to kill her.”

“Is the leaky comm still functioning?”

“Yes, but the signal is fading. Your particles, once absorbed, are eventually dispelled.”

“Individuals… hey! Why not just take them down one by one? Why fight them all at once? How many are there, anyway?”

“Excellent idea, Son. Samyaza and Gadreel are merely the leaders, and the sons of the Primulus whom Father banished to Purgatory.”

“What? Marnn is their dad? Aw man!”

“And they currently have 114 in their ranks, but nearly all are of a lower caste than we.”

“Crap. 114. That’s a lot.”

“Yes indeed.”

 

Max returned to his seat at the table, wearing a despondent look.

“What the matter, Max? Are you okay?” Jennie asked.

“Yeah, I’m good. It’s just that the aunt I never met is now hooked up with the Grigori and Dad has to kill her.”

“Max,” said Bagatelle, “if she has sided with the enemies of humanity then she needs to be eliminated with extreme prejudice. Once cannot take a blood relation into account in such a situation.”

“I know. It just kinda sucks. Anyway, I need to meet with my junior lieutenant in charge of cracking Johnson’s infernal gen-lock on the space vessels.”

“I’m with you too, Max,” said Jennie. She didn’t really have anything to do with the science aspect of the operation – she just wanted to visit with a friend.”

“ Chief, we’ll slip you back to Buenos Aires now if you like. We’ll meet up in the Rhönen tomorrow.”

“I would be most grateful, Max.”

Their departure was accompanied by a light popping sound, and Bagatelle and Vasquez got back to work.

 

###

 

Blue Mil Spaceport was enormous. Bigger than any airport or military base conceived in the known history of humanity. In fact, it was larger than the entire Los Angeles Metropolitan Area on Earth, and the only way to get around was to fly – or 3D slip, as Max and Jennie did.

“Max, why are we in a broom closet?”

“I didn’t want to startle anyone. Remember, it’s still not common knowledge I’m a Primulus, my love.” Max started for the door, but his fetching wife stopped him.

“Heyyy, hang on a sec. Don’t tell me you never made out in a broom close before…”

“Actually Jennie, that was pretty much the only place where I ever kissed a girl before meeting you.”

“Wow, you really were a virgin. I mean, our first night together was so… amazing! Yet, you are so innocent. Gawd, I love you so much, Max.”

Jennie wrapped her arms around her husband and brushed her lips up against his – softly, delicately, breathing in the essence of her eternal mate.

 

Three-quarters of an hour later, Max and Jennie entered the office of Josh Mannheim, LTJG; the man in charge of un-deciphering the complex algorithm Johnson had implemented in the hook drive ignitions.

“So, Captain, what we’ve found is that specific parts of Johnson’s genome are required to instantiate the drive. We’ve gotten that far. However, every time we get close to pinpointing the exact sequence required, it… changes. Like… magic. I can’t explain it.”

Max thought for a moment, and then had a brainstorm.

“Wait here. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Max disappeared with a light popping sound, leaving Josh, Jennie and Becky behind.

 

###

 

Max stood before the location on the mezzanine where Jennie had destroyed Ryder Johnson’s head many months prior. The spot had been scrubbed over and over many times, but Max knew the Rhönen castle staff had only used their simple cleaning methods – brushes, soap and water.

Kneeling down, he waved his hand out and thought a simple cantus.

 

Undaincantatio Magnificare

 

Max’s view instantly zoomed in to a microscopic level and found what he was looking for. After a couple of minutes he had collected two grams of bone flakes and red blood cells. Encapsulating the remains in a small bag, he stood and disappeared just as two female servants approached.

“I still have yet to become accustomed to that, Loren.”

“It is the same for me, Beka. But is Master Gunnarsson not dreamy?”

The two giggled as they moved on to complete their chores.

 

###

 

“Here, extract the DNA from these remains,” said Max, as he handed the bag to Josh. The junior lieutenant grabbed the sample with lit eyes and ran over to some machinery, spooning a bit of the white powder onto a petri dish. Placing it inside a small slot, he touched a few icons on a panel and sat back, waiting for the equipment to do it job.

“It’ll be a couple of minutes, but we’ll see what we have. So… what is this?”

“Ryder Johnson’s remains – bones and blood. I basically brought them back to a state of molecular reactivation.”

“Ewww, Max! That’s so gross!” Jennie squealed. “So they’re… alive?”

“Yes, but they’re not Len Jonson’s, and we don’t have any traces of his DNA. He wiped his DNA from the Federation databanks as a precaution.”

“But why not use his hair? I’m sure there’s plenty of that in his office,” queried Jennie.

“No, Commander. Hair is not technically alive. What Captain Gunnarsson has done is retrieve something that only he could again make alive… again,” said Josh.

The DNA extraction equipment made a small sound, indicating it had completed its task. Josh rolled back over to the machinery on his chair and pulled a gelatinous card from a panel to its front.

“This is it. Let’s see how far we can go with this,” said Mannheim.

He stood up and walked over to the hook drive that had been extracted from one of the vessels, and slid the card into a slot they had built. To everyone’s mutual surprise (and delight), the hook drive started to activate – something that had never happened before.

“Captain, you are a genius! It looks like we…”

Josh stopped short when the hook drive stopped in place, right before it would start to extend the massive hook up and out of the machinery.

“Aw man! That’s the furthest we ever got.”

“What happened, Lieutenant?” asked Max.

“Don’t know yet, sir. Let me check.”

Josh rolled to a massive computer console and typed in some commands, with a debugging readout appearing in the upright, semi-transparent display.

“Johnson’s son has some of his father’s DNA, but there are some missing proteins,” said Josh. “The first sequence read familiar code, but then stopped when it could not find the remaining pieces of the puzzle.”

“So, what does that mean?” asked Becky.

“It means we’ll need actual, live DNA from Len Johnson in order to activate the drive,” said Max. “Lieutenant, I’m ordering you to commence with the development of new drives from scratch. We can’t mess around any longer.”

“But sir! That’ll take months!”

“Yes, and there are many more before the Vrol arrive. Get to work.”

“Aye-aye, sir.”

 

“Damn, I thought that short-cut would have worked,” said Max, relaxing on a couch in his office in the Military Scientific Research Complex. It was a large, expansive room, with ornate, carved wood panels similar to mahogany lining the walls.

“It was a good try, Max. I guess we’ll just have to trust that Michael and Gabriel can find the Grigori, and then hopefully Len Johnson,” said Jennie.

“Hmm, let’s hope Len Johnson’s still alive in the first place. Not for his sake, but for us. In any case, we still plenty of time.”

Jennie made for the door, and looking back, said, “Baby, I’m going shopping with Becky. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

“Hmm, okay. What are you going to buy?”

“A bikini. I promised your mom and Liliana that we would go to the Caribbean when we got back. Just a day trip, mind you.”

“But… you could have asked me, love. I can take you.”

“Pops promised to take us. I think he’s been itching to run around in that infernal diaper of his.”

“Visual! Gross! Buy him a pair of board shorts.”

The two laughed as the gorgeous lycan female shut the office door behind her.

 

Chapter 29 – Disrupted Vacation

 

Liliana squealed in delight as she once again dove into the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, ten meters from the shore of the island formerly known as Grand Cayman. She was joined in her frolicking by a bottlenose dolphin, the species of which had been reintroduced to the world long before by the Prīmulī. Jennie was immediately concerned when she saw the wild animal near her daughter, but was calmed by Draagh, who put a hand on her shoulder.

“Worry not, child. The creature has the purest of intentions. She only wishes to play with Liliana.”

“She? You can tell she’s a female? How?” Jennie asked.

“I can see many things, my dear, Yes, many things. Her offspring are close by, and she is emoting an extremely protective aura. In fact, she considers your daughter as one of her own.”

“Oh my god! That’s worse! What if she tries to drag Lili out into the ocean?”

Draagh laughed and shook his head. “No, no, nothing like that. Dolphins are extremely intelligent, and she is well aware of Liliana’s aquatic capabilities, or lack thereof.”

“Um, just how intelligent are they?”

“Well, they were one of the species of life we introduced to this world, intending to make them the dominant life form had Mankind yet again failed.”

“They’re that smart? Do they have a language?”

“Oh yes! Well, it is quite rudimentary, but yes, they do communicate, and by extremely long distances too, I might add.”

Jennie looked out at Liliana as the young girl rode on the back of the dolphin, crashing through waves, much like one would ride a pony. It was an amazing sight, certainly never seen on Jennie’s home world. Liliana was truly a lucky child. Dolphins weren’t introduced on Azul as there were similar, yet less-developed aquatic mammals already inhabiting her oceans and filling the same ecological niche.

Looking over to her left, Jennie watched as Janice combed Clarisa’s long, brown hair. The two were more like sisters than the employer and servant they once were. Reflecting on their relationship, Jennie was happy Max’s mother had her lycan genetics activated. She was now a woman in full bloom, appearing to be in her late twenties/early thirties, and drop-dead gorgeous. She was also reunited with the love of her life – Michael, who was Max’s biological father. Thanks to their unauthorized union, Jennie had a most amazing husband, and many, many years to spend with him. Still, her lack of true immortality saddened her, but she pushed that to the back of her mind as she turned her attentions back to Liliana, who was splashing in the water while surrounded by two juvenile dolphins, their mother watching closely from a few meters away.

“Where are Jessica and Pandy?” Jennie inquired, not seeing the two former residents of post-apocalyptic Hollywood anywhere in the vicinity, nor being able to detect their scents.

“I slipped them over to what was colloquially referred to as Ray Bay, my dear,” Draagh responded.

“What’s that?” Clarisa asked, cueing in on their conversation.

“It was a place where a certain species of ray would play with humans. Boats filled with tourists would go there and they would feed the creatures by hand.”

“Rays? Like stingrays? Aren’t they dangerous?” Janice cried out.

“Oh no, not these. I took a sample from 21st century Earth and regenerated their species locally. These animals, these fish, have the same inclinations as their ancestors and only seek treats from the girls. Aside from that, I created a cantus that temporarily decreased the size and sharpness of their stingers.”

“So, they aren’t dangerous?” asked Jennie.

“Not in the least, my dear. Would you like to take Liliana there for yet another wonderful experience?”

“Um, no. No thanks, Pops. I’ll pass. From what I’ve seen in holo-vids, they’re pretty creepy-looking things anyway.”

Draagh smiled and looked out at his adopted great-granddaughter, taking delight in the joys of youth – a youth he never personally experienced. It wasn’t but a few moments later that everyone received a distress call over their comms.

“Jen, Draagh, everyone. You have to get back to the Rhönen immediately.”

“Max, what is the problem, my boy?”

“The Vrol. They’ve arrived at Azul System. Oh man, we’re so totally screwed.”

 

Jennie ran into Draagh’s chambers where the Primulus had earlier set up a large number of infoscreens. Max was moving frantically in between them, tracking foreign object movements throughout Azul System. Perspiration beaded on his forehead as he turned and said, “They’re all over the place. It’s like they’re here and then they’re over there. They’ve left thousands of ship that don’t disappear – they’re on a direct route to Vera.”

“How did this happen? It can’t be possible! They were at least two years away!” cried Jennie.

“No idea, baby, but we have to launch the fleet now.”

 

“Admiral, how many Juggernauts do we have in space?” Max asked over the comm.

“All present and accounted for, Captain. Get your ass to the Reagan and go to Vera, immediately. Attack anything you can get on your scanners. The Constellation and the George Washington are remaining in Azul space in case those bastards get past us.”

 

Come on, Jen. We’re going to our ship. Mom, keep Liliana here with you. Pops, are you coming along? We could use your help.”

Draagh’s face lit up as he slipped them directly to the bridge of the ADF Ronald Reagan.

 

Azul System Space

 

Crews were scrambling like mad as Captain Max Gunnarsson took the command chair on the second-newest ship in the Azul fleet. On his port screen Max could see the Revolution, pulling forward on fusion-ion drives. If what he believed was true, they were at an extreme disadvantage, being without side space capabilities. However, he, his grandfather, his father and his uncle could move around – much faster than a ship with a hook drive.

 

“Dad, I’m sure you heard. We’re being attacked. The Vrol have breached Azul System space. I believe it’s time for some fun.”

 

“I am already at your side, my son,” said Michael, who had suddenly appeared to Max’s right, dressed in standard military fatigues and causing a few crewmembers to jump back, startled.

Max yelled, “New technology, people. Get back to work.” Then addressing his father, he said, “We need to locate the ships that keep popping in and out of side space. In the meantime, G and I are going after the ships around Vera. Can you see what you can do?”

“Certainly, Max. My brother and I shall get right to work.”

Michael disappeared from sight, causing an equivalent reaction from most of the same crewmembers that had seen him arrive.

“Sir, what was that?” asked a female ensign.

That… was my father, Ensign. Get to your station. We’re going to Vera.”

 

###

 

“Vrol are victorious. Now Vrol feed. We hunger.”

“Sharga, what happened? I don’t understand?”

“We transported our fleet to the system of the man. Now we feed.”

“But… how? How did you do it?”

“We are Vrol. The craft that you provided was integrated into our collective.”

“Oh my god. My little ship brought the entire Vrol fleet to Azul?”

[_ "Not all. We maintain 33% of our numbers. The remaining Vrol shed off on entering the void and are lost to us. This matters not. We now feed." _]

 

What have I done?

 

###

 

“Captain, we will be in striking reach of Vera within six hours,” said Lt. Hofferson, the Reagan’s pilot.

“Very well. I want all Draeders fueled and ready to depart once we are within 300,000 kilometers. Do your calculations.

“Admiral, we have you on our scanner. We’re an hour behind. What are your orders?” said Max over the comm.

“Bring the Reagan around Vera’s dark side. That is if you aren’t attacked upon arrival. I’m sending out Draeders and some heavy-weapon attack craft as escorts as soon as we arrive. God, I hope we’re not outclassed. We’re certain to be outnumbered.”

“Unless the Vrol improved their firepower, I think we’ll be okay in space. Remember, we exhaustively studied vids of their invasion of Earth, and the Earthers fought them off pretty well, even with their primitive tech.”

“No worries there. The Revolution has some new deep scanning equipment, and I have a map I want you to see. We can go over it on the comm if you like. I’ll send it to your personal console.”

“Where are you?”

“In my quarters, why? Oh… hello.”

Max had easily slipped to Bagatelle’s quarters, without bothering to ask if his brother-in-law was decent.

“Oh crap, sorry, G,” he laughed, looking away from his naked commanding officer.

“You could have asked if I was dressed, you know,” Bagatelle mused, not really being bothered in the least. He quickly put on his undergarments and touched a panel of lit icons on his desk, causing a glowing map to appear, while buttoning up his uniform of the day.

“This is our deep space scan as of 23 minutes ago. All of these red dots represent an alien craft. Vera aerial forces are already combatting the Vrol, and I am pleased to say they aren’t as hard to destroy as we had feared.”

“So, no antimatter missiles yet?”

“Oh no, just ordinary ordinance. In fact, their craft are rather brittle.”

“But there are thousands of them,” said Max.

“Yes. 23,000, in fact. Well, 22,735 as of now.”

“Those are paltry numbers. We need bigger gains G, and quickly. Wait – look at that grouping. The dots are disappearing quickly. I wonder what’s happening.”

Max and Bagatelle watched in amazement as large clusters of red dots were blinking off. The odd thing was that there were no green dots, representing Draeders, in the vicinity.

 

###

 

The two most powerful archangels in the Universe streaked through space, wings extended and being used to more effectively tear up Vrol techno-organic matter as they plowed through individual ships. They were decimating aliens on a rate ten times faster than the Azulian Draeders.

 

“Gabriel, I wish Max were here with us. He would so enjoy this. In fact, I do not believe I ever taught him we could do this.”

“Did you not take him into space? I thought you would have at least showed him this base skill.”

“I had planned on doing so, but the arrival of the insects was unseen by any of us. Look – a larger craft. Let us attack it together. Alone, one of us would only make a significant hole in its hull.”

Gabriel nodded and followed his older brother, reveling in their wanton destruction of the parasitic species.

The two rammed into the side of the craft, roughly the size of a football stadium, each peeling off from the other as they shredded Vrol tech into microscopic detritus. Exiting opposite sides of the craft, they split it into two, and turned back, they went through it yet again, this time leaving a massive explosion in their wake. Targeting another group of craft that were nearing Vera’s atmosphere, they were both pleasantly surprised to see their father whiz past them, taking out multiple ships with a combination of brute force and thermonuclear cantuses.

“Father is such a show-off, but what he does is logical. We need to clean this up and save as many human lives as possible,” said Gabriel.

“Agreed. No Vrol touch down. He who destroys the least buys the drinks.”

Mija-El, the Taxiarch, slipped over to a large cluster of Vrol craft and situated himself in its center. Determining his position would inflict maximum damage, he enveloped himself within his folded wings as a form of protection.

 

It looked like an antimatter bomb had gone off, and 5,000 alien craft were obliterated in a microsecond.

 

The reckless archangel floated in space, near unconsciousness. Gabriel was quickly at his side, touching his brother and causing healing particles to flow through the Primulus’ body and reviving him.

“Brother, what you did was risky. Are you that much of a cheapskate? I shall buy drinks tonight. Worry not,” said Gabriel as he pulled Michael to another grouping of alien ships.

“Gabriel, we don’t pay for drinks… dork,” laughed Michael, “but thank you. I believe I did overextend myself.”

“Let us allow Father to concoct such wanton destruction. I was rather enjoying attacking the larger craft with you. Are you now well?”

“Yes. However, it appears some bugs have made it to the moon’s surface. We shall need a new bet.”

The brothers slammed onto the firm ground, shaking the soil with the intensity of a magnitude 7.0 earthquake, and nearly knocking nearby Vera troops off their feet. Gabriel drew his dual swords, which resembled scimitars, and started to hack and slash his way through the attacking horde. Michael, on the other hand, drew two khukuri knives (which were made for close-quarters combat), and consistently charged bugs, flipping over them and piercing their upper spinal columns before his feet touched the ground. It was like watching an Olympic gymnast perform endless front flips while leaving trails of green ochre in his wake. Bugs dropped to the ground where they stood, permanently disconnected from the hive mind, and quickly dying in the process.

Hearing a commotion, Gabriel turned around and saw King Krynos running through a mob of bugs, knocking them over like bowling pins, his katana flailing around and decapitating anything that got close. He bellowed out in joy, reveling in the wanton bloodshed. It was what he lived for – to do battle with worthy foes, and he found these strange insects to be worthy of his wrath. His leathers were starting to shred from alien blades and weapons fire, but nothing stopped him.

“Father, it appears Krynos is having a lovely time. Did you bring him?” asked Gabriel.

“No, my boy. He came through his office portal to the underground base and emerged like a cyclone. Is he not enjoying himself? Once we have dispatched these vile creatures I am certain he shall throw quite the party back home.”

“Have at ye, O denizens of Hölle! Feel the sweet caress of my tasty blade and know the nothingness of eternal death!” yelled Krynos, as he carved a slaughterous path in his wake, disconnected alien skulls flying through the air as he did so. Only one with strength such as Krynos’ would be able to effectively decapitate the alien invaders so easily. And even though Michael and Gabriel possessed such power, they chose to use more eloquent methods of killing their foes. Still, the brothers momentarily stopped and watched the lycan king, amused with his battle skills.

“Wow. Remind me to buy him a beer,” Michael laughed out loud.

“Not if I buy it first,” mused his brother. “Tell me, I have not seen those knives in many years. Are they truly that effective?”

Michael twirled his kukhuris around, one per hand. They were weapons capable of dealing a massive amount of damage in close-quarters combat, each weighing nearly a kilogram. They were, for lack of a better description, short chopping swords, and Michael provided a quick demonstration of their effectiveness. Turning, he slipped ten meters over to a centipede and bifurcated it along its length, splitting it into two parts, which perversely flopped on the ground, spewing green ochre over anything nearby.

Krynos grabbed two bugs and slammed their skulls together; overriding any shielded protection they had from the Brood Carrier, and pulled the bodies apart, with the smashed skulls sticking together slightly.

“Now that’s gross,” laughed Michael, as he went back to his routine of jump-flipping and disconnecting spinal columns from brains.

 

Within two hours the brothers, along with their Azulian allies, had virtually eliminated the Vrol ground troops, just in time for the Revolution and the Reagan to arrive and address the Vrol spacecraft in orbit around the moon. Dozens upon dozens of Draeders had already left the docking bays of their respective battle cruisers and were directly engaging with the Vrol craft, which turned out to be frail in comparison. Human technology had advanced significantly since the days of the Exodus, and the Draeder pilots had little difficulty eliminating their foes.

 

Admiral, it appears the Vrol craft aren’t protected by the same shields that the ground troops enjoy,” Max said over the comm.

Perhaps it is because that infernal Brood Carrier is no longer in the area,” responded Bagatelle.

Gentlemen, once the Brood Carrier departed the shields were no longer available to the ground troops. There must be a distance limitation to its effectiveness,” informed Gabriel. “We suddenly found it quite easy to dispatch the vile creatures. Our work is done here. I would like to board the Revolution, with Michael, assisting Max on his ship.”

Come on over, Gabe,” said Bagatelle. “Always nice to have a god of the universe on the bridge.”

We are not gods, G, you know that,” added Michael.

Close enough.”

Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades,” joked Max.

And antimatter bombs,” said Bagatelle.

Which we can’t use while there are any friendly forces nearby. My dad just showed up, and we’re going around the far side to perform clean up. Then I assume we’re going Brood hunting?”

Correct, Max. Where is Draagh?” asked Bagatelle.

I am near the base, my sons. A couple of these so-called centipedes managed to find the entrance to the underground base, and I was able to eliminate them before they could do any harm. I am off to search for their main craft yet again”

 

“Commander, please take us to the far side of Vera, full ion-fusion drive,” Max directed his lovely wife, who had taken over pilot duties of the massive craft. Jennie was an experienced pilot, but the Reagan practically flew itself, so her task was effortless. In a matter of minutes, the Reagan was cruising in orbit over the arid moon, scanning for signs of enemy craft. Finding none, they moved out of orbit and headed straight back for Azul, which had just started to experience the second part of the Vrol invasion.

It appears our foes are engaging in a game of hide and seek. They are popping in and out of side space, and dropping off masses of space vessels, which are then getting into atmosphere and releasing their flying caste,” said Draagh.

“Oh crap, we won’t be there for hours. We have three of battle cruisers in orbit, but they’ll need our help. I swear, when I get my hands on Johnson, if he’s even still alive, I’m gonna wring his neck,” said Max

Michael looked at his son with a mild grin, saying, “Max, while you may not avail yourselves of your invention, I believe that Gabriel, Father and I might be able to hasten your arrival at your planet.”

“How’s that, Dad?”

Gabriel, Father, please join me on the bridge of the Max’s ship. What I plan shall require our combined might.”

“Oh crap, what are you gonna do?”

 

The Reagan was on full red alert, sirens blaring, as all Draeders were docking, except for a contingency of two dozen, which were to remain in orbit and fight off any errant Vrol ships. No one on the massive battle cruiser knew what was going to happen, aside from Max and Jennie, and even they had no idea how it would happen.

Outside the hull and on the top of the ship stood Draagh, Michael and Gabriel, holding together the vessels that contained their ghanlos. They had never before attempted what they were about to do, but knew it was possible. Still, they would be severely taxed after transporting an entire battle cruiser through space.

If anyone were outside the ship the brilliance created by the combined ghanlos would have easily blinded them. The light was akin to a small sun, which slowly grew until it encompassed the entire craft. Then, without a sound, the Reagan disappeared out of Vera space and suddenly appeared in orbit around Azul. The three Prīmulī slipped into the bridge of the Reagan, each looking a bit pale, which caused Max some concern.

“Hey, are you guys okay? Hell, I remember pops almost passing out after taking us to the Rhönen for the first time,” said Max.

“We shall be fine, my boy. What happened so many months ago was completely unexpected, the headless Ryder Johnson’s craft entering into my sphere of influence without warning. We planned this sojourn, so we were well prepared,” Draagh informed his grandson. “However, we should want to rest and nourish ourselves. We shall be back shortly.”

“Okay, sounds good.”

“I do have a question.”

“What’s that, Pops?”

“Where is the commissary?”

“The officers’ mess is through that port-side door and to the stern,” said Jennie, pointing to the left.

The three Prīmulī then surprisingly walked through the door and left the crew on the bridge. Numerous junior officers were looking out at what they shouldn’t have been able to see – Azul. They knew it would have taken many long hours to get home, but there they were, their shiny blue planet plainly visible in the forward view screen.

“Captain, how are we in Azul orbit? Did you manage to get the hook working?” asked one of the ensigns at a surveillance panel.

“Um, no, Ensign. It’s a… umm, a new short-range technology,” Max uneasily stated.

 

Chapter 30 – Panic

 

Gadreel and Samyaza stood in a small room where Len Johnson was attached to the Brood Carrier, numerous organic, tube-like devices connected to the despot, resembling an alien life-support system.

“This is most vile, Brother. Why are we on this putrid vessel?” Gadreel asked his older sibling.

“We merely assist in the destruction of the monkeys. I believe they shall need our help getting their troops to the planet’s surface.”

“And what of this craft’s shield transmission? It does not function when out of range, and certainly not when in the void.”

“I have developed a cantus that sends their perverse signal through the Hub, at a risk, I must say. If our infernal uncle decides to, he could trace the signal and thus find our location.”

“Do you think he will attempt to do so?”

“There would be no reason for him to. Also, I have created a number of devices that appear to be transmitting the shield – decoys, if you will. That should keep them busy while we go about our tasks.”

Gadreel nodded and grew a smirk. “Then I believe it is time to bestow the gift of death to the monkeys. Shall we begin?”

 

The brothers slipped into a massive chamber, the size of a small city, which was filled to capacity with ground bugs, centipedes and flyers. Unable to slip the entire army at once, they started to port small groups to the most populated areas of Azul’s major cities – New Sydney, Buenos Aires and Bern.

 

###

 

Liliana Gunnarsson was seated in front of a row of infoscreens, watching the battle for Azul take place. The child was not allowed to participate, but Draagh did allow her to sit in his quarters and watch. The child noticed something on the screen that was odd – two green dots kept popping up in different places around Azul deep orbit. The dots would remain for a moment, and then disappear. She saw that this coincided with the appearance of the Brood Carrier, so she contacted her family via the comm.

Papi, I’m in grandfather’s office and see red dots popping up on the screen to the furthest left. What does this mean?”

Max thought for a moment, and then realized that Liliana was seeing the leaky tracker particles he had developed. It was his best estimate that the markers belonged to the Grigori. And better yet, they were possibly with the Vrol.

Lili, are these dots inside an icon that looks like a bug’s head?”

Yes, Papi. I designed the icon. Do you not like it?”

Yes, sweetie. It’s really cool. You’ve helped out a great deal. I’ll talk to you soon.

Max was with Bagatelle in the Admiral’s quarters. He had slipped over, being as the Revolution was still a couple of hours out of Azul space. Of course, Bagatelle heard what Liliana had said, and smirked.

“Max, your kid is smart as a whip. We didn’t bother bringing the particle tracker with us, and I think she just gave us a way to find those bastards.”

Pops, Dad, Gabe, are you guys tanned, rested and ready?”

Yes, my boy. We heard young Liliana’s findings. In fact, I am replicating the particle tracker in the bridge of your craft as we speak,” responded Draagh.

Um, no magic, okay? We’re keeping this under wraps for the time being.

Worry not, Max. We have carried what appeared to be a vid display into the bridge and are manually setting it up, making it appear to be Azul technology,” said Michael.

Hey guys, we got a big problem. Bugs are sporadically appearing on the planet’s surface. It seems every time the carrier is on the scope the bugs are instantly showing up,” said Jennie.

They are being transported by those petulant brats. They are operating too quickly for us to locate and then go to them,” said Draagh.

I want a report on ground troops. Where is Krynos?” demanded Bagatelle.

He is now in Buenos Aires,” said Gabriel.

Did you take him there?”

Oh no. He used the portal in Vera base. He’s also taken his recon team with him. I’m sure he is enjoying himself,” said Michael.

 

###

 

Massive throngs of people screamed as they ran through the streets of Buenos Aires, Nueva Argentina. Energy weapons erupted in all directions, as humans were being slaughtered en masse. Children, the elderly, and adults – it didn’t matter. To the Vrol they were the enemy and were to be extinguished from existence. Nearly every adult carrying the inactive lycan genes was fighting back with anything they could get their hands on. Personal weapons were common in Azul System, so they at least had a fighting chance. There was even a group that reenacted ancient battles, all armed with AR15 rifles which shot archaic .223 caliber rounds. Unfortunately, projectile ordinances had little effect on the Vrol and their on and off psionic armor. The fact alone that the invaders had their defensive capabilities caused alarm to Azul high command.

“Max, the bugs have their armor again. But that damned Brood Carrier is nowhere to be found. They must have done something new,” Bagatelle told his Captain, where the two were analyzing data in the admiral’s office.

“I’ll send Dad on recon to track the signal and see where it’s coming from.”

 

Michael – Dad, the bugs have their shields again, but their main ship isn’t anywhere to be found. Can you track the source?” It has to be near concentrations of attacking troops.”

Actually, I’m on it, Max,” said Gabriel. “Your father is at Vera base.”

 

“Okay G, I’m getting back to the Reagan. Jen loves being in command, but the ship needs her captain.”

Max disappeared from sight, while Bagatelle exited his quarters for the bridge.

 

###

 

Liliana sat in her great-grandfather’s chambers, watching the infoscreens flash. She felt proud that she had detected something and assisted in the battle, but for her that wasn’t enough. Knowing her grandfather Michael was at Vera she decided to do something she probably shouldn’t have done. The little girl had an idea regarding the Vrol. It was something the adults had overlooked completely, and it had to do with a small device on top of a nightclub.

Running down the hallway, she arrived at the chambers of King Krynos. Cautiously opening the door, she saw no one inside, and went to the far wall, pushing on a wooden panel. The wall gave way and she entered into a small alcove, where there was a thoroughly modern looking door. She put her hand on a small rectangular panel and the alcove turned 180 degrees, with her inside. She found herself in King Krynos’ personal office, outside the realm of space/time. She had traveled through it before on many occasions, but never alone. Moving to the other side of the small room in which she found herself, she pushed on another door, this one opening into yet another alcove. Again the alcove spun around and Liliana found herself in a small room on Vera Base.

She concentrated, and luckily located her grandfather. She ran to him, not wanting to alert anyone via the comm that she wasn’t in Krynos’ castle.

“Grandfather! Grandfather! Please wait!” she cried out.

“Liliana! What are you doing here? You should be in the castle. In your parents knew you had—”

“I have an idea how to help against the Vrol. Please. I need you to take me to Mr. Dons’ club in Hollywood. Now!”

Michael thought for a moment, and then decided it would actually be safer for her to be in PAH than on Vera, so he nodded his head and slipped them to the stairs leading up to the entrance of Dons’ club. It was nighttime in Los Angeles, and the club blared with the sounds of Lennie’s band playing some Viking death metal. Liliana bounded up the stairs, going directly to Donn’s private area.

“Liliana? What are you doing here? Where are your parents?” asked the diminutive clan leader.

“Mr. Dons. Our worlds have been attacked and the foul insects are making headway. We need to see your device that keeps them away from here.”

“We?” he asked, then seeing Michael enter the club. “Ah, brought gramps with ya. Okay, doll. This way.”

Dons popped up from his couch and nodded curtly to Michael, who merely followed the two to a back stairwell leading up to the roof. Once on top the three stood and looked at a small box, connected to a live electrical wire.

“120 volts. Sends white noise out a frequency we can’t hear, but it drives the buggers crazy,” said the diminutive human.

“I sincerely cannot believe we overlooked this piece of base technology,” said Michael, as he stooped over to analyze the device. Conjuring an infoscreen over the box, he noted the electromagnetic frequency band it transmitted, shaking his head as he did so.

LTE,” he stated with a smirk.

“Huh? El tee ee? What’s that, mate?”

“Long Term Evolution. This frequency band was used on Earth to transmit wireless device information. It was abandoned centuries ago. Someone probably booted up an old cell tower to provide communications during this world’sVrol invasion, and accidentally discovered its adverse effects on the insects.”

“Well, what’s the frequency then?”

“1,927 megahertz. This is all we need to know.”

“Um, so then you don’t need to take this thingy? I’d hate to lose it,” said Dons.

“I just needed the numbers. Thank you, proprietor.”

“Thank you, Mr. Dons!”

Michael looked as if he were to slip away with Liliana, when Dons stopped them momentarily.

“Um, sir, can I ask Lili a question?”

“Yes, of course.”

Dons bent over a bit, not needing to kneel down, as he was only slightly taller than the girl.

“Lili, how’s Pandy? Is she happy?”

“Why yes, of course, Mr. Dons. Why would she not be?”

Dons smiled and nodded his head. “Okay, that’s all I wanted to know. Y’all come back soon, got it?”

Michael nodded to the club owner and the two disappeared with a characteristic popping sound.

 

Man, don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.

 

###

 

“Grandfather! Why am I not back at Vera base? Have I not assisted in the battle, albeit in a non-dangerous fashion?”

Liliana was visibly upset that she had been slipped directly to Draagh’s office instead of back to the base on Vera. In fact, she was near bursting out into tears.

“Liliana, it is not my place to determine where you may be. I may incur the wrath of your mother when she finds you left in order to most fortuitously discover something that could potentially aid in the battle against these vile creatures. Please, remain here and I will keep you updated on its implementation.”

Liliana sat down on a large chair, crossing her arms and pouting. Most children would be content staying in a safe location during a war, but she wasn’t like most kids. She wanted action.

Before she could even formulate a response to her grandfather, the archangel disappeared from view, leaving her alone in the dark chambers.

 

###

 

“Max, Jennie, I believe you daughter, in her youthful wisdom, has provided us with yet another weapon in which to battle these creatures,” said Michael, as he walked onto the bridge of the Reagan.

“Oh my god, what has she done now?” gasped Jennie.

“Do you remember that the club in Hollywood has a device that repels the Vrol?”

“Holy crap! Yes! I was gonna look into that, but we got attacked and it slipped off my lidar!” exclaimed Max.

“I have determined that white noise, sent at the frequency of 1,927 megahertz is painful to the bugs. Prepare some devices that transmit on this frequency band and we shall set them in populated areas, keeping the insects away from innocents, and to also corral them into more convenient locations for their slaughter.”

“1,927? That’s never been used on Azul – I’ll get Josh’s team on it now,” said Max.

 

I wonder what effects it has on them, other than giving them a major headache.

 

###

 

Josh Mannheim had set up an assembly line in the Military Scientific Research HQ, with dozens of techs hastily building football-sized boxes that would transmit white noise on a signal on the 1,927 MHz frequency band. No one aside from the LTJG knew what the devices were for, nor did they need to know. They were simply under orders to make them.

After roughly 18 hours they had enough boxes to distribute around New Sydney, protecting the most densely populated areas. Citizens were instructed to stay in their homes, unless Vrol attacked them, of course. Then they were instructed to run like hell.

 

###

 

“Chairman Johnson will rescue us. Of that I am certain,” said Joshua Vann, for President of the Senate. He was in a spacious Buenos Aires jail cell, surrounded by dozens of fellow gen-vamps whom had been removed from the House of Representatives just days prior.

“I have no idea where my family is. We were to emigrate to Earth with the Chairman, and now, thanks to that dick, Bagatelle, we can’t even protect our own,” claimed a junior senator, seated toward the back.

“Don’t worry, Robert. We’ll escape, and when we do we’ll go to the Chairman’s side and fight these scum.”

“That’s what we need! Order!” claimed another prisoner.

“Yes, order indeed, my friends,” said a cavernous voice, attached to an unseen individual.

Everyone looked around, unable to see where the voice had come from.

“I bring you a gift. A gift of freedom, and of renewal.”

“Who are you? What do you bring?” demanded Vann.

“Your birthright,” said the voice, as the lock to the jail cell released on its own.

Moments later, dozens of activated, UV light-resistant vampires streaked from the cell, hell bent on retribution. And they were hungry.

 

###

 

“One of the Grigori went land-side. He popped in and out within seconds,” Jennie cried out, while looking at the infoscreen Draagh had installed on the bridge of the Reagan.

“Where did he show up?” asked Max.

“It could have been a she, Captain,” Jennie corrected her husband.

“Yeah, true, but where was it?”

Jennie zoomed into the location on the infoscreen and gasped out loud.

“Main holding cell – Buenos Aires jail. We have to inform Chief Jake.”

“There’s no enemy aerial activity at the moment. Jennie, you’re with me. We’re going hunting.”

The gorgeous dega jumped up from her seat, only to be replaced by a young lieutenant. She followed Max off the bridge and out of sight, where he slipped them to a broom closet in the BA police station.

“Max, you aren’t thinking of…”

He gave his wife a curious glance, and then thought for a moment. “Oh!” he laughed. “No, love. I just wanted to arrive out of the sight of mortal eyes.”

Jennie wiggled her brow and burst out of the broom closet, nearly giving a janitor a heart attack as she did so. Max followed, smiling at the worker and giving him a wink.

“Women! I mean, really. They like it in odd places,” he snickered, leaving the sanitation engineer in the hallway.

The Gunnarssons went directly to Chief Williams’ office, finding the Haida chief seated at his chair, watching a vid display, which showed carnage on a level he had never witnessed his entire life.

“Max! Where have you been? The streets are flowing with blood!” he cried out.

“Chief, I know. We’ve been up in my ship. Vera is contained, for now. But we have a problem.”

“What is it?”

“There’s been a jailbreak. All of the gen-vamp senators and reps from Congress have escaped.”

“But… how could they? Unless they had help from the inside.”

“No – they had help from the outside. There are some bad eggs on the level of my dad and grandfather. They’re behind this whole invasion.”

“Shit.”

“You can say that again,” said Jennie.

“Ermm… shit?”

“I didn’t mean literally, Chief.”

“Oh, sorry. Well, most of my officers are out assisting with the wounded and trying to protect any strays. What can I do to help?”

“Just keep me informed. And… whoah. Look at this.”

The three looked at a view screen and saw a small group of escaped congressmen attacking people in the streets. This alone would have been disconcerting, except for the fact that they were biting their victims’ jugulars. Sprays of crimson blood shot out from people’s necks, as the activated vampire politicians delighted in murdering their former subjects.

“Sharga. They’re activated. Jen, it’s katana time.”

 

Max and Jennie streaked out of the police headquarters, and as soon as they were out of sight Max slipped them into the middle of bloody chaos. Ghouls were feeding, never having fed before, a genetic reflex causing them to gorge themselves on human blood. Max pulled his and Jennie’s katanas out of his sub-dimensional pocket, handing his wife her enhanced blade while he gripped his own – a new sword, which was a gift from the Rhönen’s ally, Isamu.

The two started to hack and slash their way through the congressmen on the massively-wide Avenida 9 de Julio, not taking care in incapacitating them – rather, they were wantonly slaughtering the vampires, not willing to leave a single one alive, until Max thought for a moment.

“Jen, wait here,” he said, as slipped out with four of the putrid creatures. In a matter of seconds he was back, where Jennie had already eliminated three more.

“Where did you go?” she asked.

“I stuck them in the cages next to the moat. Lili needs more subjects for her experiments,” he laughed.

“Max. Don’t encourage her, please,” she groaned.

He looked at his levels meter, which he really didn’t need to monitor anymore, as he had a ghanlo that did most of his heavy lifting. But he did need some nutrition, and figured his wife did too, being she had already gone phase 2. Quickly conjuring two high-calorie, nutritional shakes, he slipped them to a safe location, where they downed the delicious liquid and then went back to hunting congressmen.

 

Hey everyone, the Grigs came down and activated a bunch of pols. We’re trying to nail them all, but could use a hand,” Max said over the comm.

 

“Wow, this really does give new life to the term Blood Sucking Lawyers, doesn’t it?” Jennie morbidly joked, knowing that most politicians had legal backgrounds.

It wasn’t but a moment later that Michael and Gabriel were flying around, lopping the heads off escaped prisoners.

 

Pops, did you hear us on the comm? Your buddies made some new light-resistant vamps down here,” said Max.

Yes, Max. I indeed heard the unsettling news. How fare you with their capture?” asked Draagh.

Um… well, I slipped four over to the cages for Liliana, and as for the rest. Um, no captures yet.

You have not been able to capture any? Have they been improved somehow?”

No, Father. We are killing them,” said Gabriel, interjecting himself into the conversation.

I have a question,” said Max. “The one you nabbed was light-resistant, but what about his lifespan? Was that somehow also modified?”

Yes, it was, in fact.”

Bummer. Do you want any kept alive?

I do not believe that will be necessary, my boy.”

 

Max determined Jennie was a safe distance away from any ghouls, so he decided he would join his father and uncle in a hunt for the escapees.

“Jen, why don’t you head back to the police station and help Jake out. I’ll be back in a bit.”

“Why? Where are you going, Max?”

The hybrid smiled as obsidian wings unfolded from his back, with him then going invisible. Jennie felt a tremendous rush of air as he took off into the sky.

 

Wish I had wings. So cool. Be safe, love.

 

Jennie took off down the street, heading directly to the police station, which was a scant five kilometers away. Still in her phase 2 form, she easily leaped over cars and major obstacles, even using her enhanced claws to climb up the side of a building. Reaching the top, she got an aerial view of the city, while she checked her levels meter. She would need to consume some calories before she did much else. She could see clusters of Vrol blasting anything in their paths, and against her better judgment, took off in their direction. She was nearly at their location when a bomb dropped onto a rather large group of bugs, obliterating them where they stood. She looked up and saw a heavy weapons aerial tank, called a Pig, dropping charged cluster bombs onto anything Vrol. But she became immediately upset when she saw a number of civilians injured by the powerful explosives. With a snarl, she jumped from building to building, chasing the craft, and nearing where it was hovering, leaped through the air, barely grabbing the landing gear. Jennie quickly climbed up and inside, scaring the life out of the two airmen inside.

“What the hell are you doing? Those are civilians down there!” she screamed. Her voice had taken on an alternate tonality, due to her enhanced state, and her appearance was enough to frighten any normal person.

“Who… who are you?” the pilot cried out, right before he noticed the commander stripes on her shoulders.

“Commander Jennifer Gunnarsson, you moron! Stop bombing women and children and fight those bugs like humans. Get over to that clearing. I’ll draw them away from the people, and then you can nail them. Do you have a handheld comm?”

“Yes, Ma’am. Here you go,” said the pilot, handing her a small device.

“When I say to, you drop everything you have on them, whether you can see me or not.”

The pilot turned again to confirm her orders but she was no longer in the ship. He flew out west to the clearing Jennie had pointed out and watched below, as a single person hacked and slashed away, in an attempt to move the bugs to a more convenient location. After five minutes it seemed to be working, and she had managed to get nearly all Vrol to the top of a parking garage.

“Pilot, drop your ordinance, now!” she demanded.

“Ma’am, I can’t get a fix on your location.”

“Now!”

The pilot took a deep breath and nodded to his weapons officer, who pushed a button, releasing their payload on the parking structure.

The entire area disintegrated in a massive explosion.

“Holy shit! I don’t think she got out,” exclaimed the pilot.

“Oh, we’re fine, sweetie,” said Jennie, now back to her day form and looking fabulous as always. To her side was Max, sitting in a jump seat with a wide grin on his face.

“But…but, how did you do that? We’re fifty meters in the air?” stammered the weapons officer.

“Personal levitation device. I got to my wife just in time,” said Max, lying through his teeth.

 

Thanks for snagging me out of there, honey. I don’t wanna hear you were babysitting me.”

Naw, I just happened to notice a phase 2 lycan leaping over buildings and luring stupid bugs to their impending doom.”

So, how did you know it was me?”

Sorry, let me rephrase that – I saw a super-hot phase 2 lycan leaping over buildings. And you need some food, pronto. I can see your levels and they’re about tanked.”

 

“Lieutenant, go back to base and reload. We have more bugs to kill,” ordered Max.

“Sir, yes sir!” responded the pilot, who then turned back around and asked, “Sir, are you Captain Max Gunnarsson? The one who was on the vid?”

“Yes, that’s correct, Lieutenant. Why do you ask?”

“I just wanted to thank you, sir. After Admiral Bagatelle was detained we had no idea what was going on. There were rumors about the Artusians, and he was right all along. May I ask where you were for an entire year? Were you running the resistance?”

“Um, no. I was on Earth, planning our return. Look out!”

Max noticed a little too late, as a Vrol flyer attacked their craft, grabbing onto it with its claws and ripping the engines off one side. The ship careened to port, with Max and Jennie nearly falling out of the open door. Max knew the ship was doomed, so he did what was instinctive – he slipped all four of them out and to an open area.

 

“Holy crap! What happened? Where’s the ship?” the lieutenant cried out in dismay. His weapons officer lie on the ground, knocked unconscious by the attack.

“Hang on a sec,” said Max, adjusting his vision and looking at the pilot through his enhanced Primulus meter.

Jen, he’s lycan. The weapons officer is a normal. Should we pump him up?”

I’d say no, but he does deserve a small explanation.”

“Lieutenant… Rodriguez,” Max started, looking at the pilot’s name badge, “I assume you watched the entire vid of the joint session of Congress, right?”

“Yes sir, I did. Why do you ask?”

“Do you recall the part where we said that Mankind used to have enhanced subspecies?”

“Um, yes sir. Why?”

“Well, you’re one of them.”

“Oh god. Am I going to be arrested?”

“Huh?” Jennie and Max both exclaimed simultaneously.

“About one-third of Congress was removed, I heard they were arrested.”

“That wasn’t on the vid. How did you find out?” asked Jennie.

“Rumors fly around. So, am I in trouble?”

Max laughed. “No, not at all, Lieutenant. There are two main subspecies – lycans and vampires. You’re lycan, like us. Well, not exactly like us. Our abilities are in full bloom.”

“So, we’re lycans, like in the old Underworld movies?”

“Not even close. We’re much cooler than that. Plus, we’re super sexy in comparison. I swear, lycans so got the raw end of the deal when it came to fantasy writing and movies on Earth,” complained Jennie.

“So, if lycans are good, are vampires bad?”

“All the congressmen who were detained were gen-vamps; vampire-potentials, and had some really nasty traits.”

“Chairman Johnson?”

“Vamp!” Max and Jennie laughed out at the same time.

“And what do these vampires look like… hey! Is that Senator Byrd?”

All three watched as a naked politician ran screaming by them, holding the severed arm of an unfortunate victim in his hand.

“Looks like it. And he’s an active vampire. Hang on,” said Max, as he impossibly drew a sniper rifle out of his sub-dimensional pocket, aimed and blew the back of the fleeing senator’s head wide open, dropping him to the ground like a sack of lead.

“Looks like the Military Scientific Research Department has some new toys these days,” said Rodriguez, wearing a smile.

We don’t have a full moon for weeks. I’m doping him,” said Max.

“Lieutenant. I’m activating your lycan genome, under the direct authority invested in me by Admiral Luigi Bagatelle.”

“Um, how can you… ouch!”

Max grinned as he capped the syringe and put it back into his pocket.

“You’ll start feeling the effects soon enough. Come with us, we need to acquire you a new ship and get your weapons officer to the infirmary.”

The previously unconscious weapons officer started to regain his wits, but Max snapped his fingers, knocking him out again.

“What I’m about to do is classified. You are to tell no one of our method of travel. Do you understand, Lieutenant?”

“Yes sir. Oh. Sharga.” Rodriguez saw his surroundings suddenly shift to an infirmary in Buenos Aires’ naval base.

 

After Jennie had consumed a pound of beef, and getting the weapons officer admitted to the infirmary, Max gave the lieutenant a hub-relay comm. The three then took off for the hangar, with Max signing off on a new ship for Rodriguez and sending him on his way with a new weapons specialist.

“In about an hour you’ll start hearing communications in your head. The comm is basically telepathic. I want you to keep me updated with what you see from low altitude. Avoid bugs and just look for vampires. If you see any, hit me on the comm. Just think my name and I’ll hear you.”

“Thank you, sir. We’ll find them. And sir?”

“Yes, Lieutenant?”

“Vampires really aren’t sexy, beautiful immortal creatures like in Earth’s movies, are they?”

“No! They die young and smell like ass!” Jennie blurted out, laughing as the two of them disappeared with a light pop.

 

I wish I had paid more attention in science class, Rodriguez thought to himself.

Chapter 31 – Pure Genius!

 

After five days of ground and air fighting the Azulian forces were still unable to quell to constant barrage of Vrol troops. To make things worse, the Brood Carrier was nowhere to be found, but bugs were still being transported to populated areas, forcing the science team to create more radio frequency transmitters. Max wracked his brain, trying to figure a way he could detect the Vrol’s main vessel, but without side space drives they were stuck in the water. Draagh said he could not detect the craft, but for some reason he seemed a bit aloof, as if he was waiting for something to happen.

 

Then Max suddenly realized he had what he needed all along.

 

Stupid! Stupid! How come I didn’t think of it before?

 

###

 

Standing on the steps of Seven Sins, Dons’ nightclub in PAH, Max steeled himself and walked up into the bar. He was instantly recognized, and had numerous beers shoved into his face before he could get to his target – Lennie.

“Heya Maxie! Good ta see ya, mate!” exclaimed the good-natured vampire.

“Hi, Lennie. You are looking well. How’s Jelly?”

“‘Bout ready to pop any day! Little Max will be healthy and happy, we hope.”

“I’m sure he’ll be just fine. Lennie, I’m not here on vacation. You know, the Vrol attacked and we’re at full-blown war.”

“I heard. So why are you here, then?”

“I need your help. I need your blood.”

“Huh? Sure, but why?”

Max sighed, trying to figure out how to tell his friend the truth. He chose otherwise.

 

He lied.

 

“Lennie, you know how vampires are really bad actors where I live, right?”

“If you mean assholes, yeah. I know.”

“Well, I believe a sample of your blood will enable me to make a cure for them.”

“A cure? So they can be more like us here?”

“Exactly.”

“Take all you need, my friend.”

Lennie pulled up the sleeve of his shirt and exposed his alabaster-white arm, smiling and willing to do anything to help his friend. Max honestly wished what he was saying was true, because then he’d be able to take Lennie and Jelly back to Azul for a decent chance at life. But he needed the man’s blood for other reasons. Max pulled a syringe and two vials out of his pocket and drew a substantial amount of Lennie’s life fluid. Not nearly enough to make the man weak, but enough for what he was about to do.

Max pocketed the vials and walked back to the bar, calling Marko over. He had earlier asked the mutated lycan if he wanted to assist in the recapture of Azul, to which the man had anxiously agreed.

“Marko!”

“Sir! It’s really good to see you.”

“Still want to see the galaxy? And get into some fights?”

“You bet! I’m your man! But… what about the clan?”

“I already ran it by Dons,” said Max, as they both looked over to the clan leader. Dons merely waved and smiled. He wasn’t about to leave his home, but had no problem letting anyone else help Max out.

“Okay, stand next to me. You start basic training now.”

“Basic… training?”

 

Max Gunnarsson and Marko disappeared from the bar without further ado.

 

###

 

“Josh, use this blood. I’ve made it so Johnson’s crap devices will read it as live,” said Max as he approached the young LTJG while accompanied by a homeless-looking man.

“Captain, when did you find Johnson? I’ve heard nothing.”

“This isn’t… Johnson’s blood. I just hope it will work.”

Josh gave Max a quizzical gaze, and then excitedly turned to his test equipment. Generating the same type of gelatinous card as he did with Ryder Johnson’s remains, he inserted the card in a slot.

Stage One: complete.

Stage Two: complete.

 

Everyone held their breath, only exhaling when the hook pushed out of its encasement and started to glow.

 

Cheers filled the hall, while Josh shut the machinery down, not wishing to activate a live hook in a warehouse, potentially murdering everyone in its vicinity by sucking them into a chaotic, sub-dimensional realm.

“What was that? What did you do, Captain?”

“Never mind. The sample was close enough. You’re coming with me. Which is the primary vessel that will activate all the other ships?”

“Um, that would be the Revolution, sir,” responded the young man.

Max looked at the junior officer, and gave him a great smile. Then, taking a step back, he put on his best official face, and said, “Josh Mannheim, Lieutenant Junior Grade, I hereby grant you a brevet promotion to the rank of full lieutenant, to be made official by Admiral Bagatelle as time permits.”

Josh nearly stumbled back, stunned. Smartly saluting Max, he was surprised when his superior officer grabbed and hugged him, while grabbing Marko’s arm. Josh was even more startled when he found himself in a small room.

“Where are we, sir?”

“On the Revolution. I just don’t like slipping into crowds of people. Only a few know of my abilities.”

“I think I’m gonna puke, Mr. Max.”

“Marko, you’ll get used to it. We’re only here for a few, anyway. Josh, where’s the thing we need to stick your card into?”

“On the bridge, sir.”

The three made a mad dash for the bridge, which was on the other side of the ship. Josh was no longer the anti-athletic geek he once was. His activated lycan genetics had turned him into the practical equivalent of an Olympic decathlon athlete, and if anyone appreciated that fact it was his wife. Marko, however, had yet to be inoculated and was struggling to keep up.

They reached the bridge, startling Bagatelle, who had his eyes glued to the numerous view screens, as usual.

“Permission to enter the bridge, sir,” said Max.

Bagatelle waved the two in. “Hello Captain. Any news? And why did you bring the junior lieutenant and the Hollywood bartender with you?”

“Wanna start the hook?”

“Are you saying you can activate the side space drive?”

“Yup. And he’s now full lieutenant. I gave him a promotion.”

Bagatelle nodded his head as Josh dashed to the equipment Johnson had his techs install in the Revolution – equipment that required live samples of the dictator’s DNA in order to activate the hook drive. Josh pushed his card into a slot similar to the one in his test equipment.

Nothing.

“Lieutenant, what happened? Why isn’t anything working?” demanded Bagatelle.

“I don’t know, sir. It should work.”

Max carefully scanned the panel where the card was inserted, and realized the equipment wasn’t started by a card. “Josh, look, there’s a thumbprint on the console. Pour some of this blood on it.” Max handed the young man a vial of Lennie’s blood. Josh then carefully put a drop on the thumbprint. Almost as if by magic, a panel of lights started flickering wildly.

“Sir, we have hook drive control,” barked Alicia Vasquez, seated at the command chair.

“Check with the other ships and see if they are similarly affected,” the admiral ordered.

Moments later they received confirmations. All ships on Azul’s fleet now had side space capabilities, including the Draeders that Max had previously deactivated and then reactivated by merely disconnecting and then reconnecting some wires.

“Start searching all side space frequencies for occupiers. Immediately,” said Bagatelle. “And Lieutenant, make sure this is permanent. By the way, good work. As for your promotion, whatever Max said is official in my book. We’ll make a record of it later.”

“Sir, thank you, sir.”

Max looked out at the depths of the galaxy, as the Revolution was sucked into side space. Wildly weaving strands of multicolored light ran in all directions, each a path to a different place in the galaxy, and potentially the known universe. No one knew exactly what side space was, but it was the fastest way to get around the universe at the time – for humans. Max and his family could go much faster. Still, he felt stupid. For as smart as he was, he tended to be too logical in his thought processes, and not creative – at all. Lennie was the key all along. He had guessed Lennie, the kindly vampire drummer from Post-Apocalyptic Hollywood, was Len Johnson’s doppelganger long before, but never made the genetic connection for starting the hook drives.

 

I’m gonna have to take some creative writing courses or something. I just don’t see things.

 

“Admiral, I’m picking up Jennie and getting back to the Reagan. Plus, I need to drop Marko off for training. Then we’re going to start hunting. Josh, would you like a lift back to the base?”

The lieutenant paused briefly, and then looked at his superior officers. “Actually, sirs, could I stay aboard the Revolution for a while? I’ve worked with this technology so much, and I’d really like to experience it a bit if I could.”

Max and Bagatelle grinned and nodded at each other.

“Sure, Lieutenant. Just be sure to notify your wife on the comm. We don’t want her too worried about you,” said Max, who then dragged Marko around a corner and suddenly wasn’t on the ship anymore.

 

###

 

Max and Jennie Gunnarsson relaxed in the expansive, remodeled Captain’s chambers on the Reagan, arms and legs intertwined, naked as they day they were born. They were both beyond tired, working 18-hour shifts, fighting bugs and now chasing ghosts in side space. Jennie purred lightly as she ran her fingernails lightly down her husband’s neck, with Max leaning his head back, enjoying her affectionate caresses.

“I heard someone complaining again today,” she said.

“Mmm? What about?”

“That we’re together on the ship. They still think the old rules apply.”

“Well, for most they do. It may seem a bit unfair, but we’re pretty much in the center of saving the human race, so they can stuff it.”

“Oooh, Max! You get me all hot and yummy when you talk like that. Say something else.”

“We’re connected at the hip. Anyone doesn’t like it, well, there’s the airlock. Take a hike.”

“A bit morbid, but yeah, we’re getting there.”

“I am the captain of this goddamned vessel, and if they don’t like the fact that I’m sleeping with my über-hot wife, they can shove their complaints up their collective ass!”

“And we have a winner! Saddle up, baby. This is gonna be a bumpy ride!” squealed the delectable dega as she rolled her husband over. She stopped briefly and looked deeply into his eyes, and then lost herself in his kiss.

 

An hour later, the Captain and Commander both entered the bridge of the Reagan, each splitting off to different rows of readouts. The ship had been jumping strands in side space all the time they were away, and had yet to detect anything alien. Max was starting to become more and more concerned that they were unable to locate the Brood Carrier, but knew his Prīmulī family was on the job.

Looking over, he saw Jessica and Pandy, both ensigns in the Azul Navy, monitoring panels and taking notes. Approaching the girls, he noticed they weren’t looking at anything remotely resembling naval duties. They were studying Castilian Spanish.

“Hello, ladies. How is it that you two aren’t looking for signs of the Brood Carrier, but are studying español?” he asked.

“Oh hi Captain!” Jessica beamed. “As we haven’t had much training, Commander Gunnarsson suggested we do this.”

Max looked over at his wife, who was desperately trying to suppress laughter.

 

Jen, really? Let’s get them doing something worthwhile.”

Okay, baby. Hey! How about I assign them to flight deck surveillance?”

Make it so,” he thought back.

 

Jennie walked over and looked at the girls’ lessons, finding they were actually quite bright at foreign languages. Once she made a couple of corrections she motioned for the girl to follow her, which they did quite cheerfully.

 

Some hours later, while Max, Jennie and a couple of junior officers were eating they received an alarm from the flight deck. Max didn’t even bother getting up. He slipped to the flight deck, only to find Jessica engaging in hand-to-hand combat with a Draeder pilot.

“Ensign! Lieutenant! What is the meaning of this?” he screamed.

“Max, he’s a zombie! He was ripping wires out of the airplanes like a maniac!” cried out the former resident of PAH. And it was true. The pilot had a blank expression to his face, and kept on trying to attack Jessica. She was doing all she could to avoid hurting the man. Her years of living in an apocalyptic wasteland had prepared her to fight the largest of men. Still, Max didn’t want her to get hurt, so he used a push cantus and knocked the man back fourteen meters, crashing into a Draeder and falling unconscious.

“Holy crap! You weren’t kidding, Jess. What happened? Full report.”

“Sir, Ensign Vendetta and I were watching the flight deck, as Commander Gunnarsson had ordered, when we saw that… thing ripping wires out of an airplane.”

“Draeder.”

“Yes, that. Anyway, I ran down and he punched me, knocking me down, and then just went back to tearing out stuff as if nothing had happened. He’s lost his marbles, if you ask me.”

“This sounds like a job for Draagh,” Max responded.

“Yes, sir. And… sorry for calling you by your first name in the presence of crew,” she whispered.

Max winked at her, and then walked over to the affected pilot, who was starting to regain his wits. However, he was now normal, and after some questioning it was determined that he had no recollection of his actions. Max had security take him to the brig, where he went to ask some questions while being accompanied by his grandfather.

 

“So, the last thing you remember was walking down a hallway, and then you were on the ground on the flight deck?”

“Yes sir,” he practically cried, “and I have a terrible headache too.”

“Oh, sorry, that was probably me. Or Jessie. She has a great right hook.”

“Am I to fly, sir? I only wish to defend Azul.”

“Well, honestly, we need to figure out what happened to you first. You just stay put. We’ll put things in order soon enough.”

Max and Draagh walked out of earshot of the pilot, who was a genetic normal and had limited hearing anyway. Draagh had a concerned looked on his face as they discussed the incident.

“Jess said he was like a zombie. Not a cannibal, but a mindless automaton. I think he was being controlled by magic,” stated Max.

“It is quite possible you are correct, my boy. I shall require a sample of his blood. Through it I may be able to detect magic particles that can be utilized for mind control. However, it may be too late. The system purges unused particles, and as it has been nearly an hour since the incident he may already be clean.”

“Grigori?”

“Possibly. I suggest you have a team examine every person on board.”

“Okay, Pops. What are we looking for then?”

“A minor-mage.”

Chapter 32 – Hide and Seek

 

A lycan special recon team, each equipped with stun pistols and subspecies detection eyepieces roamed the halls, stopping everyone they saw, and entering every room on the ship, one by one. After the first hour they had only found a crewman with a corrupted form of the ghoul gene. He had bypassed all security before due to the aberration in his cellular structure, and Draagh determined he was no threat. Still, Max had him removed from the ship and sent to Portlandia for desk duty, transportation provided by Michael, after the man had been rendered unconscious.

The team continued until they had examined every life form on the Reagan, not managing to find one single mage.

“So, it has to be the Grigori then, right?” asked Max.

“No, Max. The individual could have entered and exited the ship with their help. There are some aligned with the Grigori, of a lower caste, who have enhanced slip capabilities. They are willing idiots, assisting and hoping to pick up scraps from their superior cousins,” said Gabriel, who had gone to the Reagan from the Revolution in order to assist.

Suddenly, everyone felt a powerful presence nearby. It wasn’t human, and reeked of angelic power.

“Hey, something’s on the ship and it doesn’t belong here,” exclaimed Max, right before he slipped to the flight deck, and found himself looking at a very large man with white robes and long, golden flowing locks. Definitely an angel.

“Who are you? What are you doing on my ship?” demanded Max, as his uncle appeared by his side.

“That would be Guriel, one of the aforementioned tools of the Grigori,” said Gabriel.

“Hello, Gabriel. I am unable to say it is a pleasure to see you, but then again, we were never friends,” said the massive invader.

“Max, I believe I will leave this fight to you.”

“Huh?”

Max was blown back twenty meters, and picked himself up after sliding another ten. He charged the being, who didn’t even move an inch. Max punched him in the face, only to nearly break his hand; Guriel’s flesh was like quadrinium. Jumping back, he executed a push cantus to no avail. Then he tried an electrical cantus. Still no results.

“What the hell? Gabriel, a little help, please?” Max cried out.

Guriel laughed and stood his ground, as Max threw numerous, different cantuses at the angel, nearly lighting a Draeder on fire with one of them. Max looked at his levels readout and saw his yellow line was depleting quickly. He had a substantially great amount of magical power since he had claimed his ghanlo, but he was still subject to a tank. Random, wild cantuses would do him no good.

 

Max, it appears he has a shield around him. Your cantuses shall be ineffective unless you can bypass his shield.”

But I never learned to nullify someone else’s magic. How do I do that?”

There is another way. Did you not study geography, my nephew?”

Oh yeah,” Max thought back as he grinned. He had a plan, however; he wanted some information from Guriel first. A crowd had gathered on the perimeter of the flight deck, with Jennie running to Gabriel’s side.

My niece, do not interfere. Max needs to do this on his own.

 

“Hey, turd-breath. Who said you could come here, and what’s your plan?”

“I only seek the destruction of your putrid species, Hybrid. You shall be the last to die, as you are an abomination and not of Jah’s creation.”

“Why not just kill me now, jerk? Why not get it over with? You know I’m gonna kill you if you don’t.”

“No, you shall not kill me. You cannot even mount a decent offense against me, one of the cherubim. I tire of this game. As a parting gift I shall kill your wife before your very eyes.”

Jennie desperately grabbed at her throat, as if she were being choked by an invisible hand. Gabriel moved to assist, and nullified Guriel’s cantus on the beautiful woman.

“Okay, dude. You touched my wife. Now you’re toast. Ever watched Scanners?”

Guriel went to laugh as Max disappeared from sight.

"The Hybrid flees out of desperation. I shall bring these great tidings to Samyaza and we shall --"

Guriel didn’t finish his sentence. He ceased to exist. In his place was a very messy Max Gunnarsson, covered in angel guts.

“Ewww, gross! Is that an arm?” Pandy cried out, watching a severed limb slide off the side of a Draeder.

“Um, yeah. And I think this is his spleen. Gabe, angels have spleens too, right?” he asked comically, as he flicked an internal organ off his shoulder.

Gabriel crossed his arms and smiled, satisfied that Max understood his question regarding geography.

“Max, what the hell did you do? I mean, thanks, but ewwwww. Gross!” Jennie exclaimed.

“That fellow had a cantus shield surrounding his body. I couldn’t penetrate it. However, it didn’t prevent anything… or anyone from getting inside via a slip. I jumped inside him and blew him up,” he said, while he used a cantus to clean himself of the angel’s entrails and life fluids.

 

###

 

“Nooooooo!” screamed Purah, one of the cherubim assisting the Grigori. “The offspring has defeated Guriel! How? It is not possible!”

Gadreel tried to hide his smirk, and acted as if he had some form of compassion for their fallen comrade. But in reality, he was even more impressed with Max, finding him to not only be a worthy adversary, but also starting to quietly question why they were trying to eliminate him in the first place.

“Fear not, Purah, you shall have your retribution, and soon. Our plan continues with great success.”

“How is it a success, Gadreel? Two-thirds of the Vrol are dead in space, and the humans are wiping them off the face of their planet. We only have sixty percent of the infernal bugs left, and the Brood Carrier is constantly in hiding.”

Gadreel said nothing further, but Samyaza, who was at his side, had discovered Max Gunnarsson’s weakness. It was that he would do anything for his mate. She was the chink in his armor, and Samyaza planned on exploiting that fact very soon.

 

###

 

“You know, you could have just eliminated him and taught me to nullify someone else’s magic, Gabriel,” said Max, as he exited the shower in his quarters. A cleansing cantus did a good job tidying up, but never quite got the smell out.

“You were never in danger, nephew. Guriel was a lower angel, one of the cherubim, and you easily defeated him. Now you have such knowledge.”

“Okay, but I need to learn cantus nullification, pronto.”

“Very well, Max. I shall instruct you when time permits.”

“Max, Pandy got the whole fight on surveillance. It’s gone viral on all the personal consoles on the ship,” said Jennie.

“Jen, that’s not good. It’s becoming common knowledge that I can slip around,” said Max.

“Everybody knows – duh.”

“We shall attach a memory cantus to the shared footage. Anyone who sees it shall forget, and it shall disappear from their devices,” said Gabriel.

“Wow, cool idea, Tío,” said Max.

“Awesome! That really is a great idea. Gabriel, can you guys do that to my junior high school pictures from my awkward years too? I looked like a stork.”

Max gazed lovingly at his wife, unable to formulate an image in his mind of her looking like a stork. To him, she was the pinnacle of perfection, unequaled in the entire known universe. She was his life’s breath.

 

###

 

An hour later, after Max had relaxed and thought over the day’s events, he made a call for assistance.

“Can you help in detecting the Grigori? No one seems to be able to find them,” Max asked the Prīmulī’s sentient computer, Socrates.

“Master Max, I will do my utmost to assist, but I will need certain parameters in which to operate.”

Socrates floated in the air in Max and Jennie’s quarters, golden particles wafting as he moved around. Jennie was passed out on the bed, wearing only her panties, which didn’t bother Socrates in the least – he was a sentient computer, not a man with sexual desires.

“I think we’ll have to talk with Draagh, then. He can give you the details. Why don’t we leave Jennie here and meet with him in the Hub?”

“Query: why not meet with Lord Draagh, here, young Max?”

“Duh! Jen’s almost naked.”

“Oh, I did not notice.”

Max thought he noticed a smirk on Socrates’ glowing, particle-formed face.

“Oh wait, he’s here in the castle. We can meet in his quarters,” said Max, after he had detected his grandfather’s presence.

Pops, can Socrates and I go to your room? We have some questions.”

Certainly, my boy. I shall await you.”

Max walked to Draagh’s room, and was about to knock, when the door opened on its own. “Come in, please.”

“My Lord, you are looking well,” said the sentient assistant.

Draagh smiled and nodded his head, but he wasn’t well. He had been fighting off an infection, caused by a magical attack nearly a year before. He had used everything in his arsenal to heal the gash across his chest, which was inflicted by his brother Marnn, during their fight in the Battle of the Blood. No one knew of his injuries, as he kept them well-hidden from sight, and even used a camouflage cantus to conceal the gash when at the river or beach with his family.

“Many thanks, old friend. Now, how may I be of assistance?”

“Pops, I was wondering if there was a way we could have Socrates help us to locate the Grigori.”

Draagh paused for a moment, before saying, “Hmm, you know, there may be some tasks we can assign him.”

“Query: what might these tasks be, my Lord?”

Draagh conjured an infoscreen and started entering data that went directly to Socrates. As he did, the face started to rotate clockwise, an obvious indicator that it was receiving data.

“Socrates, I have entered all parameters for detecting any Primulus within a parsec. You will be required to go to all locations I have entered into your system. This should take you roughly one year.”

“One year?” Max cried out. “We have days at best! Isn’t there anything else we can do?”

“Max, my boy, the universe is an extremely large place, even for one who can traverse the galaxies via the Hub. I gave Socrates a list of locations where the Grigori have been known to inhabit.”

Max sighed, “Okay. Socrates, you have your marching orders.”

The glowing face appeared to almost smile, and was about to depart when they heard a knock at the door. Neither Max nor Draagh could smell any presence, as the door opened and a figure walked in, the door closing behind it. Draagh thrust out his arm, and his staff flew to his grip. Max noticed his grandfather’s actions and pulled his katana out of his sub-dimensional pocket, ready for anything.

“Danger, my Lord. Query: Shall I summon Michael and Gabriel?”

“Hold fast, Socrates,” the ancient Primulus ordered. Your services may not be needed after all.”

“Screw that!” Max screamed, as he started slashing away at the man in the room, his katana having no effect and merely slicing through thin air.

“Max, your efforts will avail you no real results. What we are looking at is an astral projection,” said Draagh. The Primulus relaxed his arm that held his staff and took a long, sighing breath.

 

“Hello, Gadreel, what brings you here?”

 

Chapter 33 – Resistance

 

Side Space, location unknown

 

Len Johnson had managed to get control over his visual cortex, and was looking in vain for some way to disturb the Vrol operation – specifically, to control the Brood Carrier. He found that he was so intertwined in their hive mind that he nearly had access to critical functions on the vessel. The one distinct advantage he had over the Vrol was that he had retained his individuality, and thus could not be controlled – to a certain extent. He was still immobile, but his mind reached in, deeper and deeper into the ship’s intelligence.

 

If I can gain control over this ship, I may be able to stop the attacks, at least long enough for a rescue, he thought, believing himself to still be considered the leader of Azul System. He had no idea he was considered a traitor, and would most probably suffer the death penalty when caught.

Ryder, my boy, I know you are out there searching for me. I was foolish to strike out on my own. I only hope you have traced my whereabouts and can come to my aid.

 

His mind clicked through various systems and subsystems. The first one he was able to control was the waste disposal matrix. He caused it to backflush, pushing millions of tons of putrid insect waste back into the ship’s myriad of corridors. Vrol systems immediately recouped and started to suck back the disgusting waste Johnson had spilled out into the ship.

 

I’ll have to be faster than that, but at least I can do something.

 

He continued to probe the hive mind, taking care not to get caught. His goal was the navigational command center, where he hoped to disable the side space hook the Vrol had coopted from his tiny ship.

 

###

 

“Whaaaat? That’s Gadreel? One of the Grigori? What the hell does he want? To gloat?” bellowed Max.

“Now, now, my boy. Let us give Gadreel a chance to answer,” said Draagh

“Uncle, it has been many millennia since we last spoke, and I come in this form only as a precaution.”

“And for good reason too, ass-hat. Otherwise I’d slice you to shreds,” said Max, while carrying an ominous tone to his voice.

“And I doubt you not, young Max. Might I say, I have been watching you with great interest, and I have come to have a great deal of respect for you, unlike my brother, Samyaza.”

“And how is Samyaza, might I ask?” queried Draagh.

“Angry – still. He has never forgiven the elders for our banishment.”

“You have none to blame but yourselves, youngling.”

“Youngling? How old is he, exactly,” asked Max.

“Oh, around a billion years old, in Earth chronology,” responded Draagh.

“A spring chicken, huh? Okay, so tell me, dude, who sent golden boy to my ship? You know, the one I made explode like a cockroach in a microwave?”

“Samyaza sent him. Max, your actions were ingenious, I must say. However, you have also incurred the wrath of my brother and his underlings.”

“Oh, I’m so scared right now. See? I’m shaking like a leaf,” said Max, sarcasm weighing heavily n his voice.

“Max, Draagh, I come in peace. I believe I have had what one would call a change of heart. What my brother and his minions attempt is not right, and I wish to assist you in the salvation of Mankind.”

“Why is that, Gadreel? Why now, after you have done so much damage already?” asked Draagh.

“I was always told that The Hybrid was our destruction – the Mankind resembled us too closely. They were to pave the way for the decimation of all Prīmulī, but I no longer believe that to be true. You were right all along, Uncle.”

“Well,” said Draagh, “I know that much. But let me ask you this – how can you prove your worth to us? How are we to know that you are sincere in your claims, and are not attempting a ruse?”

The two, plus Socrates, heard a knock at Draagh’s door. The ancient one waved his hand, allowing the door to open, and as it did, Gadreel’s apparition faded and the men were standing face to face with the real Grigori turncoat.

“I give myself to you, Uncle. Do as you will, but please know my intentions are sincere. Your power is great, and you can easily perform a cantus to control my actions, as you are well aware.”

Max looked at the ancient youngling and shook his head in disbelief.

“Indeed I can, and will, give you a control collar. But first, you must prove your loyalty.”

“And how may I do that, Uncle?”

“Where is Samyaza?”

 

###

 

“Mami, wake up,” whispered Liliana. “There is someone strange in Grandfather’s quarters speaking with him. Papi is there too. What should we do?”

Jennie murmured lightly as she opened her eyes. It was the first, decent amount of sleep she had in days. She looked at her young daughter and pulled the girl onto the bed, snuggling up with her.

“Lili, let the men talk. I’m sure it’ll be alright.”

“No Mami! Something is wrong. I can smell it. The man smells similar to Grandfather.”

“Sweetie, Draagh has a lot of friends. Maybe he called on some favors and got us some help.”

“Oh, perhaps you are right. Anyway, I am quite hungry. Would you care to join me for a meal?”

Jennie groaned and sat up as Liliana bounded off the bed. The beautiful dega reached down and pulled her clothes off the floor. Sliding into her pants, she went for her camouflage jacket when she noticed Liliana staring at her chest.

“Mami?”

“Yeah, sweetie, what’s up?”

“Will I have those one day?”

“Huh? You mean boobs?”

“Yes,” the girl responded sheepishly.

“Well, of course you will – when you get a little older. Why do you ask? Do you not want them?”

“Oh no, Mami, quite the contrary. I just hope that when I do have mine they will be nice like yours.”

Jennie thought for a moment, and then asked, “What makes you think mine are so nice, honey?”

Liliana gave her adoptive mother a curious glance, and then, with a broad smile, said, “Because everyone stares at them, Mami!”

Jennie nearly started to laugh, but maintained her composure. She was well aware of her admirers, and knew she had been truly blessed on her top end. Looking at Liliana, she realized the little girl was growing up quickly, and would also attract the attention of many boys.

“Sweetie, you have a while yet before you get to that stage in life, but how would you like to learn about makeup?”

“Makeup? Do you mean the way you accentuate your beautiful eyes with lines and color?”

“Yup. You might as well learn now so you know how to do it right.”

The two lovely lycans then sat at Jennie’s vanity, where the woman showed her young daughter the basics of how to (and how to not) apply eyeliner, neither remembering the reason Liliana why went to the room in the first place.

 

###

 

Gadreel gave Draagh a steely-eyed look of confidence and sincerity, as he said, “I could tell you where he was an hour ago, but we have been going to completely random locations.”

Draagh nodded, having figured that was the case. “Very well, how involved is Anaita in your brother’s efforts?”

“She is in neck-deep, to use a human term, Uncle. She shares Samyaza’s views on humanity. I just… I just,” he began.

“Just what?” Max demanded.

“Max… may I call you Max? I have been watching you. You’ve changed my view of Mankind. I no longer see them as a threat, but as our salvation. You see, we shall never change, but you are constantly evolving. I now believe it is true that when your species reaches biological singularity with us we shall advance with you. And you, Max, you are the best that Mankind has to offer.”

“Not really. You haven’t met my wife.”

“Oh, but I have watched her. And therein lies another reason for my coming here. I believe she is in danger.”

“Danger? But how?” yelled Max.

“Samyaza is a manipulator. He looks for openings and weaknesses. He is a coward who hides behind others. Why do you think he uses the Vrol to do his dirty work? It is he who sent Guriel to attack you. He did so not believing the lower angel would succeed in his mission. That fool was a sacrifice. Rather, he did so to gauge your reaction. Your emotional response to the threat against your wife, even though she was spared his cowardly attack by Gabriel, showed you care for her more than for yourself. I fear for your wife more than I fear for you, young Max.”

“He touches my wife and he’s toast.”

“Yes, I do believe you could destroy any of us, such is your potential, but at the risk of your mate?”

“He does have a point, my boy,” said Draagh. “We must put Jennie under constant protection immediately.”

Max got an alarmed look and bolted for the door. “Be right back!”

Running down the hallway and barging into his room, he expected to find his wife asleep. Instead, he saw Jennie and Lilia, both with ridiculous amounts of makeup on their faces.

“Max! What are you doing?” she demanded.

“Papi, this is girls’ club time, so if you please?” said Liliana.

Max almost had to put his hand over his mouth to keep from laughing, and noticed Jennie was desperately trying to keep from doing the same.

“Oh, I am so sorry, girls. I will leave you to your lady things.”

Max left the room, embarrassed that he had barged in on something mothers and daughters do, and went back to Draagh’s quarters.

Entering into the vast chamber, he was shocked to see Gadreel levitated in the air, his feet a full meter off the floor. His head was back, and a glowing band of light encircled his neck. “Gadreel agreed to have a monitor collar. I think it is only fair. Do you not, my grandson?”

“Um yeah, I guess. Will it keep him from doing shitty things?”

“It will, Max,” said Gadreel. “My intentions are honest. It is my greatest hope that one day, perhaps even millennia from now, we shall be able to see each other as friends, and even family

“Um, don’t count on that, but we’ll see, Gaddy.”

“Gaddy?”

“Yeah, it’s your new nickname. We all have nicknames. I call Draagh Pops, my brother-in-law G and anyone I don’t like ass-hat. Feel fortunate I don’t call you boludo.”

“Very well, then,” responded Gadreel, as Draagh gently lowered him to the ground. “Gaddy sounds rather quaint. I should like it.”

Max was about to respond, when suddenly, the two most powerful archangels in all existence burst into their father’s room and started wiping the walls with the fallen angel. There was nothing Gadreel could do as he was slammed from end to end, the brothers’ wings battering his immortal frame. He accepted his punishment, which was for things far worse than what he had recently done with his brother.

Michael and Gabriel had long waited to capture one of the Grigori, and now that they had one in their grasp they spared no time in making sure he suffered for his sins.

“Sons! Cease this attack immediately!” Draagh cried out, his cantus barely protecting the angel as Michael stomped on the turncoat’s face. “Gadreel comes to aid us, and gladly accepts the collar!”

“Huh?” exclaimed Michael, as he stopped pummeling the impotent soul, allowing him to stand up. Gabriel also stopped momentarily, but waited until Draagh wasn’t looking and gave Gadreel a quick, sneaky no-look backhand to the face – just enough to make his nose bleed.

“What business have you here, traitor?” Michael demanded, turning to the angel.

“Yes… traitor!” Max followed, trying to look tough in front of his father, but only looking awkward.

“Max, we were listening outside the door. Did you not just give Gadreel a nickname?” asked Michael.

“You gave him a nickname? That is a term of endearment, is it not?” asked Gabriel. “Why have you not yet bestowed one upon me, nephew?”

“Um, we call you Gabe, which is a nickname. Would you like another? Like Blondie, or Spike. No, I know! How about Moose?” Max retorted.

“Are these good nicknames?” asked Gabriel, while he looked at his brother who was shaking his head in a manner opposite of enthusiastic.

“I guess Gabe shall be fine then,” he sighed.

“You know, I really missed you all. It has been miserable these past millennia with Samyaza. He is no fun at all.”

“What? You think we have fun here? We’re fighting for our existence, Gaddy,” Max yelled.

The fallen angel looked down, realizing the timing for his statement came at a very poor time.

“Jah is gone, but it is not the fault of Max, nor of his people. It is our fault. He tired of us – our incessant whining, our begging and complaining. He has a plan, and we fight with him over it. No wonder he is nowhere to be found!” exclaimed Michael.

“Hey, I don’t know anything about Jah, really. Never met the guy, but I can tell you one thing,” said Max.

“And what would that be, my son?” asked Michael.

“I’m super hungry. They’re serving elk in the commissary. Who wants to come along?”

“Elk? I have not sampled elk in centuries, and I do feel hunger. Might I get something to eat?” asked Gadreel.

Michael and Gabriel gave him a sneering look, while Draagh took him by the arm.

“Yes, my boy. Come along. Your cousins shall need some time to become accustomed to your presence.”

“Well, I guess I could get something to eat. I’ll call on Jessica to see if she would join us,” said Gabriel.

“Hmm, yes. I shall retrieve Clarisa and meet everyone in the main dining hall,” Michael added.

“You have wives?” asked Gadreel.

“Girlfriends, dude. Only I have a wife around here,” Max boasted.

“Clarisa and I shall soon be married!” exclaimed Michael.

“No way! Seriously?” asked Max.

“Once we have rid the universe of the putrid insect strain, then yes, my son.”

“I am to be the best man of the wedding,” boasted Gabriel.

“I do not recall asking you to hold that honor, Brother,” said Michael.

“I shall earn the right, then!” said Gadreel.

Both Michael and Gabriel looked at Gadreel with amazed expressions, with Michael saying, “Brother, you shall be best man. Gadreel, you would be lucky to even survive the battles that come.”

 

The five men, four being collectively billions of years old, sat in the commissary, ravenously devouring their meals in a fashion that made Jennie look like an expert at table etiquette. As they consumed their food, the two archangels, as well as Max, stared Gadreel down, watching as he hungrily took to his dinner.

“Food must suck where you’re from, eh Gaddy?”

“I must admit, young Max. I have mostly eaten alien fare as of late. Have you ever tried zozlonsh?”

“Huh? What’s that, dude?”

“It is an animal that resembles a cross between a hippopotamus and a giraffe, my boy,” said Draagh.

“Sounds thoroughly disgusting, Pops.”

“As young Liliana would say, my son, it tastes like ass,” said Michael.

“Especially as it comes from a world with an ammonia atmosphere,” added Gabriel.

“I wonder what from a world with silicon-based life forms would taste like,” mused Max.

“Well, I am certain your system could tolerate it, but I dare say it would be toxic to a normal human,” said Draagh.

“But what would it taste like?”

“Have you ever tasted petroleum oil?” asked Gadreel.

“Ew. Okay, no more questions about food. Gaddy, you have a lot of proving to do before we let you join the gang,” said Max.

“Erm… gang?” responded Gadreel.

“Yes! The… gang of lycans and angels! We are GoLA!” yelped Liliana, as she entered the dining hall. “Papi!”

“Ah, this must be your adopted daughter, Max. Hello, Liliana. I am Gadreel.”

“I know not whom you might be, sir, but I do know that my grandfather and my uncle basically cleaned the walls with your ass, so I am not to speak with you.”

“Lili!”

“Sorry, Papi. I only seek to protect my own.”

“As well you should, young one. Again, I am Gadreel. Your elders were kind enough to not kill me and are allowing me to atone for the errors of my ways.”

Gadreel looked at Max for permission to continue speaking with his daughter.

 

He didn’t receive it.

 

“I shall keep my mouth shut for now.”

“That would be wise, fallen one,” said Gabriel.

Jennie entered into the main dining hall, surprised to see the newcomer. She sauntered over and kissed her husband, and then turned to look at the turncoat Grigori. “Who are you?”

“I am Gadreel. I seek redemption.”

“Um, yeah. Sure.”

Liliana sat next to her father and waved a servant over for a plate of food. When the kitchen girl arrived, Liliana not only smiled, she stood up and gave her a hug. The young lycan had become much more appreciative of the servant staff as of late, for some unknown reason.

“Lili, hugs? Why?” asked Max.

“Oh Papi, that is Lucinda. I accidentally caused her to be sent to the infirmary due to one of my cantus practice sessions. We have become friends since.”

Lucinda, a small, mousy-haired lycan servant bowed and backed away, a tiny smile lighting her face.

Liliana watched her leave and turned to her father, asking, “Papi, why must there be servants and underlings?”

“Well, everyone needs a job, sweetie. It all depends on people’s willingness to persevere and improve themselves.”

“I am sure that Lucinda wishes to improve, Papi, yet she serves food and scrubs floors.”

“Honey, wishes and intentions are not enough.”

“Why then do I have such a wonderful life, Papi? I always dreamed of such a life and now it is true.”

“Lili, you took incredible risks, and nearly died trying to save us. That brought us together. Well, and your mom falling in love with me – that helped a lot. Those who live incredible lives usually do incredible things. Now, I believe you friend is a nice person. Heck, everyone here is nice, but wishing and being nice isn’t enough. It takes extraordinary talent to be a leader, and leaders need not worry about washing plates and scrubbing floors – they have other important jobs to do. Just as servants don’t have to worry about defending the castle – they take care of us so we can do our job, and vice-versa. Their jobs are also important. There is no shame in having a particular job.”

Liliana looked at her father and nodded her little head in agreement. Her life had quickly become so amazing that she had forgotten her cold, lonely nights in the hallways of the castle, living as an orphan. At the same time, Max nearly had to wipe the sweat from his brow. While he told the girl the truth, he avoided the cold, hard fact that not everyone was meant to be a leader or live an amazing life. In fact, most were quite content having normal, trouble-free lives. Liliana just happened to be an incredible child, destined to do great things.

“Okay, enough of that,” said Max. “Let’s finish eating and get on with the day.”

 

Chapter 34 – The Plan

 

Draagh sat at the expansive mahogany desk in his study in the castle, tinkering with an object that looked like a typical comm device, but had a slight orange glow. As he moved his hands around, the small device remained suspended in the air, spinning in conjunction with his movements. He appeared to finish his work when he pulled his hands away and the small badge dropped to his desk with a light tapping sound.

“Grandfather, is there anything I can do to help today?” asked Liliana as she burst into the old mages office.

“Hello Liliana, my dear. No, I believe I have everything under control. Yes, quite under control. Do you not have classes today?” he asked, raising a single eyebrow.

“Oh no, Grandfather. Today is Saturday. We do not have classes on the weekend. Anyway, I would like to speak with you regarding something quite important.”

“And what would that be, little one?”

“I do note trust Gadreel. He smells wrong.”

Draagh nodded his head and gave the young girl a soft smile. “Neither do I, my dear. But we must use his presence to our advantage, so please do not interfere in our activities.”

“I understand, Grandfather.”

“Now, that you are here and you have no classes, why do we not delve more deeply into your lessons. I would like to teach you an immobilization cantus.”

“Ooo, so I could make an enemy freeze in place? That would be quite helpful during a battle,” she responded in glee.

“Yes, but it taxes you severely and is only to be used in the gravest of circumstances. I believe we shall have need for one of the castle’s feral cats.”

Draagh had barely finished his sentence when he saw Liliana holding a brown cat in her arms.

“My, that was quick.”

“Tío Gabriel taught me to retrieve cats if I knew their location. I named this one Caca, and he always stays in the same place in the air ducts.”

“You named this creature Caca? As in excrement?”

“Yes! Like shit, Grandfather,” she said, while growing a huge smile. Liliana knew she could get away with some profanity around Draagh, as he really didn’t care for plain words – intentions concerned him more.

“I believe it best you not reveal the name of this small creature to your mother.”

“I agree!”

“Very well, please set the cat down and when it moves recite this cantus – retardoincantatio murelegus.”

Liliana grew a wicked grin and threw the creature into the air.

 

###

 

“Now please detail to us everything you and your brother have recently done,” demanded Gabriel, his face practically shoved into Gadreel’s. The turncoat wasn’t nearly Gabriel’s size, but more of something in-between the battle-ready archangel and Max.

“Gabriel, I am here to help, but I cannot, in good faith, start to recite all of our crimes if you are constantly attempting to physically intimidate me. May I get a bit of personal space, please?”

“Gabe, back down on him. Let him speak,” said Max.

The larger of the two grunted and took a step back, crossed his arms and gave Gadreel an expectant look.

“We created the Vrol,” said Gadreel, maintaining a bit of remorse in his voice.

“Tell us something we don’t know,” said Michael.

“Such as?”

Why you created those vile insects. They have done nothing but damage throughout the Milky Way, and have disrupted the balance of life in the universe,” Gabriel responded with an unhappy tone.

“Dude, seriously? You created the bugs that nearly destroyed my species, and are now on their way here to do the same?”

“Max, I must apologize. I did not personally create them – it was more of a group project, led by Samyaza. Part of my shame is that I became little more than a follower.”

“Fine, loser. Then tell us the best way to fight them,” Max said as a follow-up demand.

“You have already discovered the most effective ways – decapitation, and the use of a particular radio frequency to annoy them.”

“We need their main ship – we need to destroy it,” said Michael.

“It is in the Void, that much I know.”

“Void? What’s the Void?” asked Max.

“You call it Side Space, my son,” said Michael.

“Fine, you call it the Void, but we need to find the ship. It pops in and out and we can never get a bead on it. Once we get it we win the war.”

“No, Max. Once you kill my brother you shall win the war. You may defeat the Vrol now, but if Samyaza runs free he will simply create another perversion and set it upon your worlds.”

“He is correct, Max,” said Gabriel. “We must kill all of those allied with Samyaza in order to truly safeguard Azul and her moons.”

“Okay, well, I have a plan,” said Max.

 

###

 

“Chief Williams, we eradicated another vampire nest,” reported Officer Nano Sanchez, who just happened to be covered in a light, green gelatinous liquid.

“Hmm, very well, Nano. Did you follow protocol and destroy it?”

“Yes, sir. But it exploded this time.”

“That sounds new. Would that explain the green guck all over your uniform?”

“Correct, sir. Anyway, I believe we should avoid using fire from now on.”

“Consider it so ordered. Shoot them all in the head, Nano.”

“Very well, sir … and sir?”

“Yes?”

“I believe I speak for everyone here – thanks for taking over as chief. Something was kinda off with Chief Robinson.”

“Kinda… off? What do you mean, son?”

“Well, we think he was one of these vampires.”

“Perhaps he was, Nano. But we need to maintain order and keep busy hunting down those who escaped the prison facility. The longer they’re out there, the more normals they can infect.”

 

###

 

“Grandfather, the cat is frozen in place! I am so happy! Thank you!”

“You are welcome, child, but please try to levitate the creature.”

Liliana concentrated her cantus, levoincantatio murelegus, but noticed that nothing happened. She tried it again and returned a confused glare at Draagh.

“Grandfather, why can I not lift the kitty?”

“My child, your father can monitor his magical levels via an invisible meter visible only to him. I fully expect you shall one day also, but until then you must manage your skills carefully. Imagine if you were up against a mortal enemy, and you needed a simple levitation cantus to win your battle. However, you had just used a freeze cantus and all of your abilities were temporarily inaccessible. This is what you see now, my dear.”

“My… levels?”

“Liliana, there is a limit to the amount of magic someone can perform at any single time. You have just discovered one of your limitations.”

“Have I lost my magic? Am I to be a normal lycan now?”

“No, no no, my dear,” Draagh returned, laughing, “your skills shall return shortly, but for the time being your are magic deficient.”

Draagh was actually relieved due to the fact that Liliana had no ability to gauge her skills timeout through a meter in her peripheral vision, as it would not be visible to her until she had gone through puberty – something he didn’t wish to appear anytime soon. Even though it would assist her greatly, he didn’t feel she was ready to have her full compliment of lycan/mange skills, which would include turning on the full moon.

 

 

Chapter 35 – Tag, You’re It!

 

 

“This device will allow us to track Gadreel’s exact point in space/time, so if he goes back to the Grigori we shall be able to take action immediately,” Draagh informed Max, Jennie, Michael and Gabriel, as they all sat in the main dining hall, snacking on dried meats.

“It is a more robust version of the trackers we all wear,” added Gabriel, having been the one who initially developed a tracker to put on his brother, Michael.

“If not for your tracker, Gabriel, I would have been lost in the same alternate, fractured timeline as Max. It was truly an ingenious effort.”

“Well, I for one, appreciate it,” said Max, as Jennie nodded her head in agreement.

“So I guess the question now will be how to get Gadreel to wear this thing and go back to his brother,” Jennie added.

“He wears the collar, my dear. His will is subject to my own, for the most part,” said Draagh.

“And just where is he right now?” Jennie inquired.

“We’re letting him rest. He kinda got the snot kicked out of him when he came here,” said Max.

“I just hope he isn’t up to anything bad,” said the lovely lycan female.

 

###

 

Hello, brother. Are we being spied upon?”

Gadreel. It is good to hear you. No, we are quite safe. Did you make contact?”

Not only contact, Brother. I am in their midst.”

Excellent.”

 

###

 

“Abuelita, I have a new magical skill, but I must only use it in an emergency,” Liliana said to her grandmother, Clarisa Gunnarsson, who was knitting a small blanket with the help of her best friend Janice Wong.

“Ooo, that sounds divine, my love. What kind of skill is it?”

“I am now able to freeze my enemy in place.”

“Liliana, can you freeze some ice for my tea? I’m afraid it’s gone warm,” mused Janice.

“No, Tía Janice. It is not a temperature cantus. It merely immobilizes the subject.”

Clarisa looked upon Liliana with pride. She had been working with the girl since they first met, in an attempt to imbue more civil qualities into the child – a former orphan who grew up scrounging for scraps in castle hallways.

“And when did you learn this skill, sweetie?” asked Clarisa.

“This morning. Grandfather Draagh taught me in a matter of moments.”

“Is it a difficult skill?”

“Not at all! It is just that it is quite taxing on my magical skills, and it takes a while before I am able to perform a different cantus. In fact, I believe it was nearly four minutes before I could levitate Caca.”

Janice snorted lukewarm tea out of her nose.

“Caca? You are not playing with poop again, are you dear?” asked Clarisa, recalling when Liliana had used a levitation cantus to fling horse manure into Kyle Reynolds’ face.

“Oh no, Abuelita. Caca is a cat that lives in the castle. His fur is of a rich, brown color, so I believe I named him appropriately.”

Clarisa and Janice looked at each other, trying to hide the smirks on their faces.

 

###

 

Later that afternoon, Max, Jennie, Draagh, the archangels, and Bagatelle all got together in Draagh’s office, looking at star charts. They were attempting to determine if there was a pattern to Samyaza’s travels, as had been pointed out by Gadreel.

“It appears that he is using the Hub as a transit point – specifically, Anaita’s domicile,” Draagh stated authoritatively. “Other than that, I fail to see any consistency in his travels.”

“Well, that sucks,” said Jennie.

“I agree,” said Bagatelle.

“I guess the only thing we can do is send Gaddy off to visit with his brother and see where it takes us. Are you sure you don’t know where he is?” asked Max, looking at the traitorous former member of the Grigori.

“I only need to contact him, Max. He should bring me to wherever he might be.”

“Well, that sounds easy. Why do we not simply go and attack the fetid spawn of Marnn?” suggested Gabriel.

“No, my son. We shall need to separate them. According to Gadreel, there are dozens of lower angels in their employ, and we shan’t win against such large numbers without incurring losses,” said Draagh.

“I think an antimatter bomb could do the trick. Why not just send one with Gaddy, and then pull him back right before it goes off?” asked Max.

“My brother would detect such a rudimentary device,” said Gadreel.

“Rudimentary? Rudimentary?” demanded Bagatelle. “I’ll have you know the antimatter bomb, aside from the side space hook drive, is the pinnacle of human technology.”

“Human technology, dear nephew,” Michael calmly stated. “While your advances are great, please look at what any Primulus is able to do. With but a thought we could create a small thermonuclear-equivalent explosion, but choose to not do so, as we take care in not creating what you call collateral damage.”

“Yes, my boy. We could kill countless millions in doing so. So I say no – we must separate Samyaza from his minions and cut the head off the rancid, evil body of what we call the Grigori,” added Draagh.

“Wow, it’s like we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, hmm?” said Jennie, causing Michael to give her a curious glance, not knowing the meaning of the colloquial phrase.

“Fine. Then we have to let Gaddy go off and meet up with his brother. Sounds like a plan, but I still don’t trust him,” said Max.

“Max, please. You must trust me. I can bring you to Samyaza,” said Gadreel.

“Okay, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

 

###

 

Samyaza stood in front of a wall of black, nearly indiscernible techno-organic machinery. Attached to the wall was Leonard Johnson, who had numerous tubes and wires connected to his body, some even perversely inserted into his lower orifices. He appeared to be in a coma, but the leader of the Grigori knew better. Touching an exposed part of the human’s forehead, he spoke to his mind.

Johnson, we must thank you for your efforts. You have no idea how much you assisted us.

Who… who is this? I cannot see you. I’m blind. You don’t sound like the hive mind.

My name is Samyaza. All else matters not. I merely desire to convey gratitude. Mankind shall now perish, and your name shall live in infamy.”

No! I only wanted to save Mankind! My son! My friends! We were to start again on Earth, but this time without weakness. My son! Do you have knowledge of my son?”

Samyaza knew that Johnson’s son was long dead, but chose not to reveal that bit of information.

No, I know not of your offspring, human. He is irrelevant, anyway. All humanity shall perish, and we have you to thank.”

Johnson mentally sunk back into the depths of his subconscious, knowing he had done an incredible wrong. What he had truly believed to be a noble effort had turned out to be the doom for his entire species.

 

###

 

Brother, they wish to have me locate you alone.”

This cannot be, Gadreel. You must delay them. The insects shall soon mount their final attack, and we will then follow up and kill our most hated enemies, Draagh, Michael and Gabriel, along with the disgusting stain of a hybrid that is Max Gunnarsson.”

Then what do you propose? They desire me to bring them to you.”

Play along, and I shall give you the coordinates of our previous destinations. You can then tell them you believe I no longer trust you.”

Ah, excellent thinking, Brother. Might I ask where your current location is?”

Not now, but know we have just paid a visit to the disgusting ghoul who betrayed his species.”

 

 

###

 

“He will not tell me where he is right now,” said Gadreel, only to receive disbelieving glares from everyone in the room.

“So, maybe he doesn’t trust you anymore?” asked Max.

“Oh, he trusts me. Of this I am certain.”

“What did you say to him?” asked Gabriel.

“I simply asked to go to his side. He believes me to be monitoring efforts throughout your star system.”

“Then why not bring you to where he is?” asked Bagatelle.

“He ordered me to assist in the creation of more activated ghouls on Azul.”

“So it was you guys who did that! Bastard!” screamed Max, as he punched Gadreel directly in the nose (while amplifying his punch with a gravicantus).

“Max! Desist at once! Gadreel is our only hope to stop this insanity before we lose any more lives!” Michael yelled.

“I think it was hot,” commented Jennie, going up and slapping Max on the butt.

Gadreel tried to hide a glare of contempt, as he wiped blood from his nose. “I understand Max’s disbelief, Jennie. It is difficult, but please know, I am only here to help.”

“Max, we must be kind to our new ally,” said Draagh, as he patted Gadreel on the back, his hand lingering for a moment.

“Thank you, Uncle. I believe if we work together, without further distrust, we shall be able to stop my brother and his hideous hordes.”

“Gadreel, I want to know how you made supposedly normal, inactive vampires into sun-resistant full bloodsuckers,” said Bagatelle.

“It is not difficult for any of us, Mr… um, what shall I call you? Everyone seems to have given you a different name.”

“Admiral. You can call me Admiral. If you wish to be even more formal you may call me Admiral Bagatelle.”

“Very well then, Admiral Bagatelle. We merely modified the genome of a select, few inactive ghouls and let them run amuck. They then infected some others and it became an outbreak. But I must say, it was not I, nor was it my idea. When this happened I was already committed to assisting you in the salvation of the human race – enhanced subspecies and all.”

“Okay, getting back to business – we need to locate the bug ship – the big one. I’d also like to find that bastard Johnson and rip his throat out,” said Max.

“Max, we will be back on Azul, and the Constitution requires us to provide Len Johnson with a fair trial,” Bagatelle stated eloquently.

“Fine, we find him, give him a trial and hang him in the Plaza de Armas. Done deal, right?” exclaimed Jennie.

“Um, baby, we don’t have a death penalty, remember?” said Max.

“Well that sucks!”

“I know, love, but we have to follow the rules if we want to implement permanent change.”

“What if he resists arrest?” she asked with a hopeful tone.

“Hermanita, we’ll see what happens. Let’s just find him first. Gadreel, can you give us intel on Johnson’s whereabouts?” asked Bagatelle.

The turncoat Primulus seemed to pause for a moment, and then finally revealed, “Yes, he is on what you call the Vrol Brood Carrier.”

“Oh great! And we can’t find that shitshack insectoid barge,” yelped Jennie.

“I know not what shitshack means, young one, but I can tell you that it is formidable in its own right. It has an extremely powerful defense shield, impenetrable from the outside, and is nearly the size of a small moon,” Gadreel informed Jennie.

Bagatelle had walked off to the side of the room, apparently in some sort of communication. He nodded his head a couple of times and then returned to the rest of the group, saying,” Alicia just informed me that all Vrol have basically disappeared from New Sydney. I checked and more bug forces are attacking Buenos Aires from the outside.”

“Admiral Bagatelle, may I know who this Alicia might be?” asked Gadreel.

“Sure, she’s my fiancé.”

“As is your betrothed?”

“Yes, why?”

“Get her out of there – now! In fact, get anyone you know and love out of that place. There is only one reason the Vrol would leave a location.”

“And what would that be, Gaddy?” asked Max.

 

“The final attack is about to commence, and New Sydney is the primary target.”

Chapter 36 – Mass

 

Nobody saw it happening. One moment the sky was clear, and the next there was an object the size of Sienna hovering just outside the atmosphere over New Sydney, the federal seat of Azul System. People stopped what they were doing and stared into the sky, squinting, and trying to discern what occupied basically all of their airspace. There was absolutely no way any number of Draeders could have taken it out. It would have been like a group of kindergarteners trying to kill a tank with peashooters.

“Ali, come with us, now,” ordered Luigi Bagatelle, as he grabbed his future-wife’s arm and started to drag her to Gabriel’s location a few feet away.

“G, what’s up? We just heard that a massive ship is in the sky, over the comm. All of the rebellion is here, assisting in the fight.”

“Luigi, we have no time. We must go,” ordered the archangel.

Bagatelle looked around and saw impending death.

“Gabe, can you create a doorway to Vera? Quickly? We can’t let these people die.”

“Die? What? What’s happening?” Alicia demanded.

Before she could say another word, Gabriel, former enemy of all that Mankind stood for, created a massive doorway, and yelled, “Everyone! Through this portal, now! Your lives depend on it! Stay at your own peril!”

Nearly everyone in the large room immediately ran through the glistening door, and found themselves in the temporary safety of Vera, which was many hours away by normal transport. Bagatelle, Alicia and Gabriel followed, with the archangel closing the portal once they had safely passed through. Gabriel then created an infoscreen, showing activity on Azul.

“Oh crap. Those are mass drivers,” gasped Alicia Vasquez, as she watched craters the size of small, rural cities being created in the middle of what was the pinnacle of Mankind – the glistening, beautiful city of New Sydney, Oz. Buildings toppled, grav trains fell and structures turned to dust.

Man learned long ago that mass drivers were the most efficient way to destroy cities. It was a matter of taking a sufficiently large object, say, a meteor three kilometers in diameter, and simply pushing it towards a planet from out space. Gravity takes over, and the objects strikes to ground at terminal velocity. The devastation is unimaginable. A small meteor collided with Earth and destroyed the dinosaurs millions of years prior, and the Vrol had decided to create the extinction of Mankind on a much larger scale. The collective mind reveled in its ability to change the destiny of the Universe.

Gone were the Plaza de Armas and the Federal Complex. New Sydney military base followed – all completely wiped out, their only legacy being massive craters, many kilometers deep. Millions of people had their lives snuffed out in seconds.

The Vrol had decided to forgo the attack of virulent amoebas, as the Grigori informed them of the presence of Draagh and other Prīmulī, who they assumed had activated health particles in the planet’s atmosphere..

 

###

 

“We need to get to Buenos Aires immediately and help with the fight. Gadreel, this is where you can show your true colors, if they aren’t yellow,” said Max.

Gadreel looked at him with a strange expression, not being familiar with the concept that yellow was the color of cowardice. “I shall assist, Max. It is all I can do at the moment.”

Draagh, Jennie, Max, Michael and Gadreel gathered together, while the old mage slipped them to a safe location in Buenos Aires, near the police headquarters. The Vrol Ship was so large they could see it on the edge of the atmosphere, Buenos Aires being many thousands of kilometers away from New Sydney, and on an entirely different continent.

“Max, who’s in charge of the Reagan right now?” Bagatelle asked.

“Logan Stor. I thought he’d be a good fit.”

“Excellent choice. Let’s get him on the comm.”

Captain Stor, what is you location at this time?” asked Bagatelle.

Hello, Admiral. We’re in orbit around Vera. We just finished destroying the last of the known Vrol ships left out in deep space, so we came back to protect the moon.”

Stor, I’m sure you heard the main Vrol ship is attacking Azul?” asked Max.

Yes, Captain Gunnarsson. Would you like us to go planet-side?”

Absolutely! Come in on the far side from the Vrol craft, and take care. It is quite large,” Max answered.

 

“Everyone, prepare for side space. Activate the hook,” ordered Logan Stor, naval captain and now activated lycan as well.

An ensign at the command control console flipped a switch and a massive panel structure opened out, revealing a large apparatus. Something that appeared to be a giant spear, littered with electronics. It started to glow, and a rift opened above, displaying a different part of the physical universe. Within seconds the ADF Ronald Regan was off all scanners on its way to Azul.

 

Max, Draagh, Jennie, Michael and Gadreel ran into the Buenos Aires Police headquarters and went straight to the chief’s office. They found a distraught Jake Williams who was holding his head in his hands.

“Chief! New Sydney has been attacked! We need to evacuate this facility!” Max yelled, as he burst into the small office.

“They’re dead… my son and daughter-in-law are dead,” he moaned.

“Oh… shit,” said Jennie.

“Why were they there, Chief?” asked Max.

“They wanted to help. They were hunting vampires. We were on the comm, and they said they saw the Vrol ship in the sky. Then… they just stopped communicating.”

“That doesn’t mean they’re dead, Chief,” Max said hopefully.

“No, I can feel it. These comms enable us to touch the person with whom we communicate. They are no longer.”

“He is right, son,” said Michael.

Max lowered his head and tried to hide his remorse, but he had much bigger issues at hand. No one knew if the Vrol Brood Carrier would move over to other landmasses on Azul.

“Chief, where are your grandchildren?” asked Jennie.

“They are safe, on Krynos’ land.”

Max felt at least some relief, knowing Tommy and Janie, Chief Williams’ grandchildren, were his daughter’s best friends. At least she would be spared some grief. The twins, however, were not to be given the same consideration.

“Chief Williams, we shall need to take you to safety. Please contact all of your tribal members and have them come to this location. Then we will take them to Krynos’ castle,” said Michael.

The old Haida chief shook his head. “No, Michael. We shall stay and fight to the end. We are not cowards. My children may have died, but at least my grandchildren are safe.” Pausing briefly, he looked over to Max, and said, “In case I do not survive, would you do me the honor of caring for my grandchildren?”

Max was thunderstruck. He had never before witnessed such bravery. Jake Williams wasn’t even from Azul. He was from an alternate Earth, and had no reason to sacrifice his life for anything aside from his own family. Gadreel was also astounded. He looked at the Alaskan, wondering how someone could sacrifice so much, even in the face of having lost his own child.

 

There is so much more to Mankind than I ever thought.

 

“Of course, Chief. I’ll take them back to Córdoba and put them in the same school that Liliana will attend. We’ll make sure they get great college educations and have productive careers and all that,” Max responded.

Jennie went up and hugged the Haida chief, whispering in his ear, “Don’t worry. Besides, you’ll be safe. We’re going to take those bugs out.”

“Come, children! We must make haste and act while the ship is present,” bellowed Draagh.

 

Admiral, we’ll have the Vrol Brood Carrier in visual range in about ten minutes,” Logan Stor informed over the comm.

Good. Once you see it, start annoying it with cannon fire.”

 

“G, who’s in charge of the Revolution?” asked Jennie.

“Topper Stanton. That’s why I felt Max’s choice was so appropriate.”

“Yup, they’re buddies, alright,” answered Max. “So, where’s you ship at?”

“Guarding Luna and Sienna, if it actually can. We have it parked in between their orbits, picking off Vrol attack ships.”

Stanton, I need a status report,” Bagatelle said over the comm.

“[_ Sir, we were achieving a 100% success rate destroying enemy craft until that damned main vessel came into orbit. Now we can't hit a single one _].”

Logical. The Brood Carrier, as it’s called, provides a form of shield. I’m sure the ground troops are experiencing the same difficulties. Keep on trying. Captain Stor is bringing the Reagan around to assist.”

Sir, yes sir.”

“Luigi, if you will allow me, I believe I can shed some light on the situation,” said Draagh, as he conjured an infoscreen, showing the Brood Carrier, and both the Revolution and the Reagan, which looked like gnats hovering around a city block.

“There’s no way we’re going to do any damage to that thing. Gaddy, it’s time for you to help out,” said Max.

“Max, Samyaza refuses to bring me to his side at this time.”

“Cool, then we’re going to a ship. G? The Revolution?”

Bagatelle nodded his head, and in a matter of seconds the team was in a hallway outside the command bridge of Bagatelle’s beloved vessel. Following the admiral, everyone entered onto the bridge, with a junior officer jumping up and bellowing, “Attention on deck!”

Everyone stood up and saluted Bagatelle until he returned the gesture, going over to the command panel and looking over the displays. Jessica and Pandy were off to the side, having been watching intel displays, and both popped up, saluting while wearing broad smiles.

“Girls,” whispered Bagatelle, “you stop saluting when I do.”

“Oh, sorry Admiral,” they both simultaneously chimed, as they dropped their hands and went back to their duty stations.

The Brood Carrier would soon be in plain view, as it maintained a static orbit around Azul and directly over New Sydney, which is had effectively wiped off the face of the galaxy. However, Azul’s two moons moon in asynchronous orbit and were soon to reach the carrier’s vicinity.

“We have about three hours before we get near, if we stay locked with the moons. We need to formulate a plan,” said Bagatelle.

My friends! Long has it been since I heard your dulce tones! I wish to assist in any way possible,” said Krynos, using his special comm.

“Hello, King Krynos. Would you like to join us on my starship?” asked Bagatelle.

Yes, in fact I would! Please have one of your… oh. Hello!”

Krynos found himself standing on the bridge of the Revolution. His sudden appearance caused a stir on the deck, even though most had witnessed his massive girth there before.

“Hello, my brother,” said Draagh, giving Krynos a hearty hug and man-pat on the back, while making sure the king coughed a bit from the force of his slaps.

“Ah, Mrs. Gunnarsson! It again delights me to be in the presence of such beauty and warrior strength!”

“Um, thanks King Krynos. As always, it’s great to see you too,” the gorgeous dega responded while her husband watched, him being a little miffed by Krynos’ constantly complimentary fashion of greeting his wife. Still, he knew Krynos had no mal intentions towards Jennie.

“And who do we have here?” the king continued, seeing Gadreel.

“This is Gadreel. He is here to help,” said Max, not wishing to alarm to lycan king as to the nature of the ex-Grigori and his treachery.

“Ah, excellent. So, how may I be of assistance?”

Draagh conjured another infoscreen and showed Krynos the massive damage that had been done to New Sydney. The king immediately gained a look of sadness, and clenched his fists in rage, before screaming out, “We shall have none of this! I shall batter that pathetic ship with my own bare hands until I render it to dust!”

“King Krynos, we are all upset, but punching it won’t do anything,” said Max.

“I know, my boy. It is a figure of speech. In any case, I am here to help. Admiral Bagatelle, as I am on your fine vessel, what is it you wish for me to do?”

Gadreel interrupted, causing Krynos to give him a cautionary glare. “King… Krynos, is it? I am pleased to make you acquaintance. I have intimate knowledge of the enemy, and am certain that Jennie Gunnarsson is a target of theirs. Perhaps you could use your considerable strength and battle knowledge to protect her for the time being?”

“Gadreel is your name, yes? Well, I shall certainly assist in any manner, and if the most capable Jennie Gunnarsson, who single-handedly destroyed the skull of the wicked Ryder Johnson in hand-to-hand combat, requires my help – which she does not – I shall be by her side.”

Jennie grinned, liking Krynos’ compliment, while Max groaned.

“Well, I think I’m good on my own, but if Gadreel says I’m a target, then so be it. King, you’re with me. Let’s go to check the Draeders.”

“Good plan, Jennie. I don’t know how much damage they can do, but we have to hit them with everything we have,” responded Bagatelle. “Bring Ensign Moonbeam with you, just to have a second set of eyes.”

Jessica popped up, lightly slugging her best friend in the shoulder and giving her a wink, before running over to Krynos and Jennie’s side.

“Hi King! It’s good to see you, as always,” Jessica said with a smile.

“Young Jessica, it is my pleasure, as always.”

“Ensign, we’re going to the flight deck. I’ll need you to go to the observation room and check all recordings for any abnormalities,” said Jennie.

“Yes, Commander. Shall we?” she said, holding her arm out for her superiors to proceed.

The three left the bridge and started out for the flight deck, Jennie in the lead. As they rounded a corner she felt a slight disturbance in the air. Turning around, she saw Jessica with a blank expression on her face, which was odd, as the friendly lycan from an alternate timeline usually wore a smile, accompanied by sparkling eyes. She turned to see where Krynos was, but instead her vision turned sideways, and then spun around, fading to black.

 

“She’s becoming a good officer, Max – both of them, in fact. I believe it was a good choice to bring them along. It really has to be better than where they lived before,” said Bagatelle.

“I was thinking the same thing too,” said Max, as he followed his superior officer down a corridor to the Admiral’s quarters, bringing Draagh, Michael and Gadreel in tow.

“Where are we going?” asked Gadreel.

“My office. We’re going to figure out how to stop your jerk of a brother.”

The group entered into Bagatelle’s office, with both Bagatelle and Draagh taking the two seats. Max looked at the small couch in the corner and pulled his father over with him, taking seats and leaving Gadreel standing in the middle of the room.

“The time is now, Gadreel. I am afraid I must demand you bring us to Samyaza. Millions of people died today, and I am afraid I cannot allow any more to perish,” said Draagh, giving his nephew a burning glare.

Gadreel looked at his estranged uncle, desperately trying to decide a course of action, but before he could even formulate a response everyone heard a scream over the comm.

Oh my god, nooooo! Noooooo! She’s dead!” He killed her!”

What? Who’s dead? Jessica, what happened?”

Jennie’s dead! King Krynos killed her!”

Chapter 37 – Tragedy and Loss

 

What have I done? How is this possible?

 

Len Johnson remained connected to his perverse configuration of techno-organic Vrol machinery, effectively enabling the hive mind to control the hook drive so precariously attached to the Brood Carrier. It was all he could do to think and keep his thoughts private, but his emotional outburst forced him to drop his guard.

 

This isn’t happening. I could have killed Ryder. Where is my son?”

Your son is nowhere in our vicinity. If he comes for you we shall bring you both together as one.”

Bastards! You murdered my planet.”

Murder is an emotional description for an action. We cleanse.”

I swear, if it’s the last thing I do…”

You have already served your purpose. We thank you.”

 

The Brood Carrier, which was hovering over the now-destroyed city of New Sydney, simply blinked out of view. It disappeared as quickly as it had arrived. Behind it was a trail of death – millions of Azulians decimated – wiped from existence – in the most efficient manner possible. The Vrol had done more damage with space rocks than they could have ever done with their amoebic plague, but they weren’t without help.

 

Gadreel, I believe it is time to come home,” said Samyaza.

Brother, something has happened here. I believe the Hybrid’s mate has been killed.”

Yes, she is dead. Come, now.”

 

###

 

“No! Holy shit! Whaaat?” screamed Max, as he charged out of Bagatelle’s office toward the corridors that led to the flight deck. Michael, Draagh and Bagatelle followed in pursuit, while Gadreel stayed behind, blinking out of sight as soon as they had left.

Max rounded a corner, only to find Jessica on the ground, covered in blood, holding Jennie Gunnarsson’s nearly severed head on her lap. Krynos stood near a wall, staring with a blank expression, lightly banging his forehead against a door in a rhythmic cadence.

“Max! Krynos… just… just… he cut her head off! Oh my god! What do we do?” cried Jessica.

Max Gunnarsson dropped to his knees next to the love of his life – his only love – his wife, and supposed mate for nearly forever. His heart almost stopped as he tried to catch his breath. Quickly moving Jessica to the side, he took Jennie and gently tried to repair the damage done by Krynos’ massive quadrinium blade. His hands were shaking as blood continued to leak out of her severed jugular vein, covering his uniform shirt.

“Jennie, no. My god, no. How did this happen? Somebody help!”

Max felt his head start to swell, and looking back at Krynos, he nodded, violently flinging the massive lycan into a far wall. Turning his attentions back to his deceased wife, he stroked her lustrous black hair while he started to hyperventilate. Draagh, Michael and Bagatelle arrived and could only stare at the carnage.

“I feared something like this would happen, but I had no idea Krynos would be the victim,” said Michael.

“Krynos? Victim? What the hell?” screamed Max, as he again flicked his head at the now-unconscious lycan king, slamming him into another wall. Max then completely lost control, and, closing his eyes, started to unknowingly warp the local atmosphere, creating massive amounts of pressure that actually forced the bulkhead to warp. Tears streamed down his face as he tried to heal his dead wife. The walls nearly buckled, undulating back and forth, accompanied by the creaks and groans of quadrinium being stretched to its limits. Small holes formed in the bulkhead, with numerous air leaks sprouting, and lowering the already-weak air pressure.

“Max! Son! You must control yourself! Stop, lest you create a breech in the bulkhead and release atmosphere, killing anyone in the vicinity!” commanded Michael.

“Let them die! I hope they all die! I want to die!” he moaned, trembling and nearly losing consciousness himself.

Gabriel popped into sight by Michael’s side, looking down at Jennie’s bloody body, her still beautiful face looking upward, her eyes closed. He immediately felt sick to his stomach, which was saying quite a bit. Gabriel had wantonly slaughtered humans in his long, storied past, but not one death had ever affected him in this manner. A tear fell from his eye as he watched his nephew scream in anguish.

Draagh knelt down next to Max, putting a hand on the man’s shoulder, and using a cantus to control his extreme emotional outburst. “My boy, allow me to make dear Jennie a bit more presentable.” He then repaired the breeched bulkhead with a quick transmutation cantus.

“Save her! Can’t you save her? Bring her back!” he wailed.

Draagh gently took the woman’s head and set it on his lap, looking at her with a gaze of affection never before seen on his face.

 

This time it must be different.

 

Looking up at his two sons, the two most powerful archangels in all existence, he said, “My boys, you know what I must do.”

“Father, no! The risk is too great! We need you here. Without you we shall fail!” yelled Gabriel, while Michael went to restrain his brother.

Max sat, his back against the wall, banging his head against the metallic surface, moaning and suffering like never before in his short life. His heart had dropped to his stomach. Everything good and beautiful in his life, aside from his adopted daughter, had been taken from him. The most amazing person he had ever known, who ended up being his wife, now lie dead on his grandfather’s lap.

 

“My sons, you know that I must do this. I… love you both.”

 

The Primulus known as Draagh, but before by countless names, gently caressed Jennie’s forehead before placing his fingers on her temples. He looked up at everyone and gave them a kind smile, and then started to slowly dissolve into the local atmosphere. At first it was almost imperceptible, but soon began to resemble Socrates when the faithful computer would fade from view. If not for it being such a tragic situation, it would have appeared to be a beautiful thing; the brilliant blue-colored particles that made up his corporeal form wafting into the air and slowly disappearing. Then, without any sort of warning, his mouth opened and emitted the most painful sound ever heard in the universe, accompanied by what appeared to be a mass-ejection of particles, shooting out into space. This was his soul scream, and it wasn’t a pleasant thing. One could determine he was in absolute agony just by looking at him. Everyone was forced back, holding their hands over their ears. Jessica and Bagatelle passed out from pain, and even Michael, Gabriel and Max started to bleed out through their ears.

 

###

 

Jennie Gunnarsson found herself standing in a place that seemed to have no ceiling, floor nor walls. It was pure white, exuding a tranquility that brought her complete peace. After a few moments she felt a presence, and turning, she saw Draagh standing next to her. After he put his hand on her shoulder, he said, “Hello, my dear. I am afraid something happened.”

“Hullo, Draagh. Where are we?”

“This would be the place in-between places. Some call it purgatory, while others call it null space. I merely call it a transition point.”

“Transition? To what?”

“The other side.”

“Other side? Like, death? Am I dead?”

“Hmmm,” he said thoughtfully, “well, yes. I must apologize. You see, I never thought Krynos would be the one to suffer mental control. His mind was always very strong.”

“Huh? King Krynos killed me?”

“Yes, I am sorry, my dear. But he was being manipulated, much like that poor fool who was ripping wires out of your spacecraft earlier.”

“But who did it? Who controlled him? Oh god, no! Liliana! Max! What will they do without me? Max can’t even properly make a bed! He’ll let her make up new swear words!”

Draagh appeared to snicker as he shook his head. “No my wonderful granddaughter, Max shall never have to make his own bed, and neither shall you. The swearing part, well, I cannot say.”

“Well, are there beds in Heaven? Will I be able to see them? Max and Liliana?”

“But of course, Jennie. You shall see them every day.”

“So, what do I do now? Where are we going?”

“That is immaterial. Please remember – you must soon make a critical decision, and it cannot be made with emotion. You must think of the greater good.”

“Draagh, I don’t understand. Please explain what you are talking about. What decision?”

“You shall see. Pay careful attention.”

 

Moments later, Jennie watched as Draagh faded from sight, and the entire space in which she resided went black.

 

###

 

“You killed her? Do you realize what you have done?” screamed Gadreel.

Samyaza wore a gloating smile, standing with his arms crossed. “The Hybrid is finished. Such is his agony, he shall never function at complete capacity. Now we attack with full force.”

Gadreel shook his head violently, saying, “No, no, no. This is not how it was supposed to have happened. We are doomed, do you not see? So disconnected have you been from Mankind that you fail to understand the depths of their abilities. This shall only amplify Max’s resolve.”

Samyaza laughed out loud, his voice echoing throughout the vast chambers of the Brood Carrier, as he slipped his entourage to another part of the galaxy.

 

###

 

Max had moved over and again put Jennie’s head on his lap. Draagh was gone. The Primulus had disappeared before his very eyes. Not only had Max lost his wife, he also lost his grandfather. Now all he could do was gently sob, having had two of the most important people in his life ripped away from him. He bent down and kissed her forehead while he stroked her blushed cheek, still unable to believe what had just transpired. He saw Jessica, Bagatelle and Krynos regain consciousness, where Michael used a cantus to freeze the lycan king in place, just as a precaution. Then, looking up, he realized that Michael and Gabriel were grinning. This alone made him furious.

“What the… assholes! Why are you smiling?”

Michael nodded down toward Jennie, causing Max to again gaze upon his wife’s beautiful face. But this time it was different – there was movement. Her lips pursed. Slowly, she lifted an arm to his face, as if her corpse were reaching out to touch him one final time. Then, without further delay, she gasped for air, her lungs filling and causing her chest to expand.

 

Jennifer Marie Escalante de Gunnarsson opened her now-brilliant-green eyes, and cried out, “Draagh! He’s gone!”

Chapter 38 – Resolve

 

Max, Jennie, Michael, Gabriel and Bagatelle were seated at their usual table in the Rhönen Dominion, shortly after everyone had cleaned up, all having been covered in blood from not only themselves, but mostly from Jennie. She casually ran her fingers over her neck, trying to feel where Krynos’ sword had cleaved her head from her body, but could detect no such aberration. Michael had brought them to Krynos’ castle as a precaution, not wanting to expose any of them to immediate danger.

“So, Jen, what happened? Do you remember anything?” asked Max, obviously relieved that his wife was no longer a beautiful corpse. He was holding her so tightly she couldn’t move a centimeter.

“Well, I was walking down a hallway toward the flight deck, and then I noticed Jessica – she had an odd, blank expression. Then everything started spinning and I was in this white place. And Draagh was there. Baby, you’re kinda crushing me.”

“He was there? Where was this place?” asked Max, as he softened his grip on his wife.

“They were in-between life and death, son,” said Michael.

“How do you know that?” asked Jennie.

“We are aware of all points in space/time, Max. What our father did was reckless, and could very well have handed us our defeat. We need his power and strength to defeat the Grigori,” said Gabriel.

“Grigori! That shithead Gadreel! He’s responsible for this!” Max yelled, with the force of his voice causing a nearby servant to drop her platter.

“No, my son. It was Samyaza who was responsible, although we have yet to ascertain Gadreel’s involvement,” said Michael.

“What happened to Draagh? Is he coming back? I’m confused,” said Bagatelle.

“He shall not return any time soon, Admiral. He is now unavailable to us,” responded Michael.

Max looked into his wife’s brilliant green eyes, trying to create an explanation in his head, but continued to fail to understand the gravity of all that had happened.

“Our father sacrificed himself to bring Jennie back from the void. In doing so, he wantonly self-destructed his corporeal form, which will require at least a century to reconstitute itself,” said Gabriel.

“Gadreel is gone, and we’re so totally screwed,” said Max.

“Worry not about the traitor, Max. We shall yet see the outcome of all that is to pass,” said Michael.

“Jen, have you looked in the mirror?” asked Bagatelle.

“Yeah, it’s weird, I mean, it’s beautiful, but… wow.” Said Max.

“Hmm? What do you mean?” asked Jennie, as Max conjured a simple handheld mirror for her. Taking it from her husband, she looked at her face and gasped, reaching up to her cheeks and examining her eyes. “They’re… green! They’re beautiful! But how? What the hell happened to me?”

“Father resurrected you, my dear. In doing so, he imbued a part of himself into you,” said Gabriel.

“A part of… oh, wait. Max,” she said, standing up, “come here, sweetie.”

“Um, okay,” he said, joining his wife.

“Where’s my sword?”

“I don’t know, Jen. Why?”

“Good, ‘cause I don’t need it,” she said, with a mild grin.

Jennie put a hand on Max’s shoulder, and he suddenly found himself out in front of the castle, near the Haida housing that protected most of the elderly and young from Saxman.

“What the… hell?” Max exclaimed.

“Yeah baby. I don’t need the sword for magic anymore,” she said.

Slipping them both back to the dining hall, she gave everyone a big smile. “Um, I think I changed just a bit.”

“Just a bit,” mused Michael.

“Uh, I don’t understand,” said Max. “Jen just slipped me out and back. She couldn’t even do that with her magic-enabled katana.”

“You are now, my dear, for lack of a better term, a hybrid, like Max,” said Michael.

“No way!” Jennie squealed.

“Yes… way,” responded Michael.

“But how? I don’t understand,” said the gorgeous, now-hybrid female.

“A Primulus can self-sacrifice and bring someone back from the brink,” explained Michael. “Father did it only once before in all his existence.

“Who did he do it for?” asked Bagatelle.

Gabriel conjured an infoscreen and displayed a massive vid scene. It was like an ancient movie being played back for everyone, with the camera displaying a third-person view. In the display they saw Michael and Gabriel, both dressed like Roman soldiers, following a robed Draagh to a hillside out in the desert. In the background, up on a hill, were two dead men, tied to crossed poles, and another, unoccupied cross in-between the two. Draagh looked around, making sure there was no one in sight, and waved his hand, causing a massive boulder to roll off to the side, exposing the entrance to a cave. The three entered, and found a sarcophagus containing a wrapped corpse. They then witnessed nearly the same thing they had seen in the hallway on the Revolution. Draagh dissipated and, after his soul scream and complete disappearance, the figure in the wrapping sat up, with Gabriel and Michael both assisting it. Pulling the cloth off its head, they revealed the face of an attractive, bearded, Semitic man. Like Jennie, the man had brilliant, green eyes.

Gabriel said something in a foreign language unknown to Max, Jennie and Bagatelle, as he lent a hand to assist the man out of his container.

Jennie gasped. “That was… was…”

“Yes, my daughter. He was the Pacifist, as we called him. You see, he was sent nearly powerless by Jah to lead a tribe to military victory, but instead chose a path of peace. Then he went and got himself caught and killed. Three days had already passed since his demise, and Father barely got to him in time,” Michael explained.

“Oh, so then I was fine. He got to me right away,” Jennie stated.

“And a good thing, too. You were merely human,” said Michael, “while he was of the Prīmulī. His eternal essence was much more resilient than yours. I dare say, if Father had delayed further you would have been lost to us forever, your soul having taken residence within the shards that wander the universe in a collective consciousness.”

“Wow, that’s heavy. So, where’s King Krynos. I don’t know whether to thank him or kick his ass,” Jennie said bluntly.

“Krynos resides in a cell on the Revolution, little sister. We’re keeping him there until we know how to keep the same thing from happening again. Jessica too – she’s also in a cell,” said Bagatelle.

“Does he know what he did?” she asked.

“Yes, he is aware,” said Gabriel.

“Wow, he must feel like shit,” said Max.

“He mourns, not knowing of Jennie’s resurrection,” said Michael.

“Well, let’s leave him on ice for a while. What’s next?” asked Jennie.

“We need to find the Grigori,” said Gabriel.

“Oh great. And how do we do that now that Draagh’s gone and Gadreel escaped?” asked Max.

 

“You shall see, child,” said Michael, who then quietly thought out to his brother.

 

Gabriel, how is it that Jennie is at a hybrid Primulus level, like Max? As a mere human she certainly should have been improved, but only to the level of a mezzo.”

“I do not know, Michael. It is indeed odd, but Father has his ways.”

 

###

 

The team made their way back to the Revolution, and went right to the brig, where Krynos and Jessica were being held. There were no bars in the holding cells, as modern technology facilitated invisible energy shields, locking the occupants inside. Max walked up to Krynos’ cell, finding the lycan king sitting on a small bench, his head in his hands and weeping like a child.

“Hello, King Krynos,” Max said with a toneless expression.

“Oh, what have I done? I murdered the most beautiful creature to have graced my world. I am worse than any ghoul.”

“Yeah, that was a shit move you pulled.”

 

My son, I have been told Krynos has never cried in his life. Not even when he was forced to kill his own wife during her murderous rampage on the full moon. He truly feels remorse. Given the remarkable situation we now face, I believe it best to treat him with kindness,” Michael said to Max over their familial connection.

 

“Max, I am so, so very sorry. I do not know what happened. I awoke in this cell, and young Jessica told me I had murdered your wondrous wife.”

“That’s all I told him, Max. How are you guys doing?” she asked with her typical peppiness.

“We’re fine,” said Jennie, as she walked up to Krynos’ cell. “Um, King, I’m b-a-a-a-ack.”

“Demons! What manner of sorcery is this? Are you an apparition? A ghost? Please, follow me throughout my miserable life and wantonly torture me. I deserve no less.”

“Hey! Krynos! You didn’t kill her. Well, you did, but Draagh brought her back. But now we have to figure out how to keep it from happening again,” said Max.

“I… didn’t… how? I fail to comprehend, young Max. How is the good Jennie Gunnarsson standing before me, yet I supposedly separated her head from her body with my sword?”

“Draagh resurrected me. But there’s a catch.”

“A… catch? What means that?”

“Um, Draagh is gone, and he’s not coming back anytime soon,” said Max.

“Nuuuuuuu! My actions have resulted in the demise of my best friend? My brother in arms! I am worse than a cannibal, and deserve death at the very least!”

“King Krynos, our father is not dead – he is merely… unavailable for a while. All shall be well,” said Michael.

“For a while? How long is this while of which you speak?”

“About 100 years,” said Jennie.

“A sufficient amount of time, but nothing for him, I imagine,” said Bagatelle.

“Still, we really needed his help in finding the Grigori – and defeating them,” added Max.

“We shall find them, son. Father made certain of this. He had a plan. Even though sometimes aloof, imbibing in his herb, he maintained an intelligence far beyond that of ordinary mortals,” said Michael.

“Oh yeah? And just how are we gonna find Gadreel?” asked Max.

“Father put a special tracker on him. In fact, not only do we know his precise location, we are also aware of whom he is with. We shall go to him when the time is right,” said Gabriel, as he waved his hand, releasing Krynos and Jessica from their holding cells.

Chapter 39 – Remorse

 

Michael sat at Bagatelle’s desk, concentrating intently while he developed a cantus that would effectively protect anyone on the ship from having their mind controlled by an outside force. The Admiral had gone to the bridge, along with Jessica, to communicate with the Regan and other ships in the vicinity. Max and Jennie sat on the small couch in Bagatelle’s office, with the woman curled up on his lap, as she would usually do. However, this time they were holding on for dear life, never wanting to be separated again.

Max put his hand up, with Jennie doing the same and placing her pam against his.

 

Jen, can you hear me?”

Yeah, I can! Without the comm even!

I think it’s because you’re now like me. And there’s something even cooler.”

What’s that, baby?”

I think you’re basically immortal now, just like I am.”

Ooh, together forever. I like the sound of that.”

 

The gorgeous dega/lycan/Primulus hybrid now appeared even more beautiful than before, especially due to her new eye color. This made Max wonder why his eyes hadn’t changed color when he got his ghanlo.

“Dad?”

“Yes, Max?”

“Why did Jennie’s eye color change, but mine didn’t when I got my ghanlo?”

“The ghanlo plays no part in that, son. It is merely that you were always a Primulus. Father has blue eyes in his corporeal form, and I believe green was the result of their combined DNA.”

“Combined?” they both yelped at the same time.

“Oh my god, am I part Draagh? Will it be incest if we… we…”

“No, Jennie,” Michael laughed, “it does not work that way. You are not part of my father. His genome merely modified yours. Well, yes, you retain part of him, but that does not make you him in any way.”

“Creepy,” said Jennie.

“Not really, love. We’re together, and now it’s forever, right Dad?”

“Do you mean to ask if Jennie is now immortal? The answer would be yes, she is immortal.”

“Oh, but Liliana! She will age and we will…”

“Fret not, daughter. Liliana has many centuries in which to live, and one never knows what shall come to pass.”

“Baby, let’s play it by ear,” said Max.

“Right. Hey, where’s Gabriel?”

“He is accompanying Jessica, intent on protecting her, even though it is unnecessary,” said Michael.

“I think he’s in love,” responded Jennie.

“I believe you may be correct, daughter.”

“And Dad, what about you and Mom? Any chance of rekindling the flames of whatever?” asked Max.

Michael smiled and nodded his head. “Max, I never stopped loving your mother. I can truly say that we shall be together forever.”

“Forever? But she’s only a lycan,” said Jennie.

“As I stated regarding Liliana, my dear. Things change, and there are many ways of working wonders. I plan on spending the rest of eternity with Clarisa, but please – do not reveal that bit of information to her.”

“No problem, pops,” said Max, smiling with the knowledge that he had a chance to share his forever with many of those he loved most.

“Very well. We must attack the Grigori soon. Father’s tracker enables me to ascertain their location, as well as numbers in Gadreel’s vicinity.”

“Yeah, but the Brood Carrier. We need to destroy that. Gadreel earlier said that shielding protects it. So much for lobbing antimatter missiles at it,” said Max.

“Son, do you not remember Gabriel’s lesson when you fought and defeated Guriel? I believed he referred to geography, am I not correct?”

“Oh yeah! Slip some bombs inside and remotely detonate them,” said Jennie.

“Um, no. That ship is weird and works on a whole different level. Due to its techno-organic nature, nothing automated nor digital functions correctly inside. We’ll need a dead-man’s switch, and it’ll be a suicide mission. Unless someone can slip in and out quickly,” said Max.

“Max, a slip would not be fast enough to enact a device and then escape. It would truly be a suicide mission,” said Michael. “We must find another solution.”

“Okay, well, in any case, I’m going to meet with Josh Mannheim. He’s my go-to guy for anything tech. Jen, wanna come along?”

“Max, you aren’t moving a millimeter without me.”

Max stood up, as Jennie slid off his lap and clasped his hand with her. They walked out of Bagatelle’s office and went through a corridor, finding a massive blood stain still on the floor where Krynos had killed the woman, albeit temporarily.

“Wow, this is where I died,” she said.

“And where you were reborn, love.”

They stared at the discolored floor for a moment, and then continued walking. Reaching the ship’s lab, Max and Jennie entered, causing everyone to pop up at attention.

“Officer on deck!” shouted Lt. Josh Mannheim, as everyone followed suit.

Max gave him a quick returning salute, and said, “As you were. Lieutenant, I have a project for you.”

“Yes, sir. What would this project be?”

“Well, first, we’ll need an antimatter bomb. The biggest one we have.”

“What are we to do with it, sir?”

“I’ll need for you to do some retro tech – it needs to be activated by hand. In essence, you need to make a dead-man’s switch.”

Everyone in the room gasped. Suicide wasn’t a part of Azulian society, but all were aware of the lack of progress against the Brood Carrier.

“But, whoever releases it will die!” Josh exclaimed. “Who would volunteer for that?”

“Hmm, that would be me,” said Max.

“Oh no, you don’t! You’re not going to do any such thing, Max… erm, Captain! We need you here, alive,” commanded Jennie.

“Don’t worry, Commander. I plan on doing it from far away.”

“But how’s that?” she asked.

Max simply waved his finger around while grinning.

“Oh… I see,” she said with a smile.

“So, get to work, Lieutenant!”

“Sir, yes sir!”

 

Max and Jennie walked up to the bridge of the Revolution, finding Bagatelle looking over some star charts, while Jessica was seated next to Pandy. The two were performing tasks, with Gabriel standing close by. As a superior officer was already present, no one stood up to salute, nor say the otherwise-required attention on deck.

“Captain, Commander – what are you both still doing here?” demanded Bagatelle. “You should be on your own ship.”

“Admiral, I had to confer with my science officer, Lt. Mannheim. He is preparing an antimatter bomb that we’ll slip inside the Brood Carrier once it appears again,” said Max.

“Ah, very well. But wait! Didn’t Gadreel say that technology wouldn’t work on the Vrol ship?”

“True, but I’ll use some skill to remotely detonate it. I think it’ll work,” said Max.

“Okay. Look, I’m no scientist, nor a mage, but if no technology works on a Vrol ship, then how does the antimatter bomb work?” asked Bagatelle.

“Oh, the internals are mechanical. The bomb has a small quantity of antimatter – roughly twenty grams, surrounded by 500 kilograms of matter. It’s a simple, yet elegant catch mechanism inside. The antimatter is released into the matter, resulting in the explosion. This particular bomb is called a moon-killer,” answered Max.

Bagatelle walked up and put a hand on Jennie’s shoulder, asking, “And how are you, Commander? I must say you’re looking well.”

“Jennie Gunnarsson 2.0,” she whispered, while Max took her by the hand and led her to a corridor where they could slip out without the rest of the crew seeing their method of departure.

 

Max and Jennie appeared in a hallway of the Regan, not aware that a crewmember was walking by. The woman – a lieutenant junior grade, gasped and almost fell down when she suddenly saw the two.

“Captain! Where did you come from… sir?”

“Um, from this room, Lieutenant. As you were.”

The woman scurried off, not knowing if she was hallucinating or just not paying attention to her surroundings. The two then made their way to the bridge, where they found Cpt. Logan Stor in command. He immediately stood up and said, “Attention on deck!” deferring to his superior officer. Although Max and Stor were of the same rank, Max was the captain of the vessel, and Logan was his second in command.

“As you were, Captain. I need a status update, please.”

“The Brood Carrier is still out of sight, and off our scanners. We’re maintaining orbit, waiting and ready for anything. Draeders are ready for launch also.”

“Excellent. Well, I’ll be in my quarters,” said Max, as he turned to leave, Jennie following him.

 

Commander, is everything alright? You look a bit… different. I don’t know what it is,” Stor asked Jennie over the comm.

Hmm, let’s just say I’ve had a transformative experience. Max can give you the details later.”

Very well, Commander. It’s good to see you both.”

 

The Gunnarssons entered into Max’s (really their mutual) quarters, and Jennie immediately pounced on her husband, not previously having had the opportunity to be alone with him since she had been resurrected by Draagh. Straddling his lap, she put her delicate, copper-colored hands on his face and concentrated. She could feel she could do something, and she was correct. A mild, golden glow emanated from her arms, down into his body, creating a sensation neither could describe. It was better than sex. It was as if they were joining their souls. Overwhelmed by the sensation, Max pulled her hands away and smiled, looking at her wedding ring.

“You know, you don’t have to worry about certain things anymore, baby.”

“Like what, Max?”

“Like this.”

He took her left hand and touched the wedding ring given to her by his mother, and using a simple cantus, transmuted the white gold of the ring into rhodium – a substance deadly to lycans.

“Feel anything, Jen?”

“Um no, why?”

I just made your ring into rhodium. If you weren’t a Primulus you’d be screaming right now.”

“Max! That was a risk!”

“No, not really. You really are just like me. This is so awesome.”

Jennie gazed into her husband’s hazel eyes and smiled, before leaning forward and enveloping his mouth with hers, their tongues intertwining in a sensuous dance of desire and sweet breath.

 

###

 

“Greetings, King Krynos. I bring good tidings,” said Michael, as he walked into Krynos’ private chambers unannounced.

In most situations, the king would have reprimanded the interloper, but aside from the fact that Michael was the most powerful archangel in existence, Krynos felt completely subordinate to any of the team, having killed Jennie, which in turn caused Draagh’s disappearance from the universe at-large.

“Greetings, Archangel. Of which tidings do you speak? Naught can be good, as I have committed acts most vile.”

“Krynos, please do not blame yourself for what happened. I truly believe it was part of Father’s plan. There may yet be a way to defeat the Grigori, as well as the Vrol.”

“But I am a risk factor; that much is certain.”

“Not anymore. Not anymore.”

“How so, Michael?”

“We have developed a cantus to protect everyone in our vicinity from being controlled. We are all perfectly safe.”

“Does this mean I may return to assist in battle? I shall throw myself upon my own sword if I am not able to fight in the defense of the noble Jennie Gunnarsson and her good husband Max.”

“You may, and please, do not do any sword throwing just yet,” laughed Michael, as he held his hand out to the king.

 

###

 

The following day, Max and Jennie decided to check in on Liliana and Clarisa in the Rhönen Dominion. Jennie hadn’t seen her daughter since her transformation, and needed to come up with an excuse for her new eye color, being as the child was immensely perceptive.

Jennie was lying in bed, her perfect figure curled up against her husband (who wasn’t too shabby either). As she gently traced a finger down his taught torso, she asked, “Max, what are we going to tell Liliana?”

“About what, sweetie?”

“My green eyes. They’re super-noticeable.”

“Oh yeah. Um, how about you got a gen-mod. It can be done at the ophthalmologist anyway. The technology’s been around for years.”

“Okay. Good idea. Let’s get dressed and go see her.”

 

###

 

“Abuelita, are we to have dinner together?” asked Liliana, who was completely covered in mud from a recent session of training with the Youth Brigade.

“Just as soon as you’ve cleaned up, sweetie. Go take a shower and put on some fresh clothes.”

“May my friends Janie and Tommy join us?”

“Sure, I don’t see why not.”

Liliana started to giggle, prompting Clarisa to ask, “ What’s so funny, Liliana?”

“It is the way in which you speak, Abuelita. It is so like Mami and Papi.”

“Well, I really wanted to talk to you about that.”

“About what? Your manner of speech?” the little girl asked.

“Yes. Your parents informed me that once the battles are over, we’ll be moving to Azul, where you’ll attend a proper school in Córdoba. I’m afraid you’ll have to learn to speak more… like us.”

Liliana immediately gained a panicked expression, and slipped out of sight.

“I wish she wouldn’t do that. I wonder what happened?”

 

A very muddy Liliana appeared at the doorway to the apartment of Janie and Tommy Williams, lycan children from a Haida village in Southeast Alaska. Nearly out of breath, she pounded on the door, only to see a very solemn-looking Tommy answer.

“Tommy! I have the worst news! I am to leave the Rhönen Dominion, where I shall attend some beastly school on the planet of my parents. What shall we do?”

“Our parents are dead.”

“What? How is this?” Liliana looked at Tommy, able to comprehend his agony, having lost her own birth parents.

“Didn’t you hear, Lili? New Sydney was destroyed. Our parents were there, fighting, when it happened,” said Janie, who had walked up and still had tearstains on her face.

Liliana rushed forward and hugged the two, prompting Tommy to push her back.

“Lili, you smell like manure.”

“Oh shit, sorry,” she said, and then performed a cantus that removed most of the filth that covered her. “I assume this is why you were not present at the Youth Brigade training session this afternoon.”

“Yeah, pretty much. Anyway, I guess we’ll be going to Azul too, eventually. But we don’t know where,” said Janie.

“Would you like to join Abuelita and me in the castle for dinner tonight?” Liliana asked hopefully.

The two shook their heads, both obviously in a state of mourning.

“No thanks. I think we want to be alone for a while,” said Tommy.

“I am truly sorry for your loss. While I am aware you are now orphans, at least you still have your grandfather. Is he to care for you now?”

“Yeah, he is. Where are you going to live on Azul?”

“Córdoba, Nueva Argentina. It is the birthplace of my parents.”

“Oh,” said Tommy, casting his gaze downward. “Our grandpa is chief of police in Buenos Aires. I guess we won’t see each other that often.”

Liliana put her hand on Tommy’s shoulder, and said, “Tommy, do you not remember I can slip to any place on a planet? I shall visit with you both tomorrow.”

The little lycan/mage then disappeared from sight with a light popping sound.

 

“Oh yeah, I totally forgot,” said Janie, as her face fell back into a dazed expression.

 

###

 

“Abuelita, something terrible has happened! The twins are now orphans,” Liliana cried out as soon as she entered her grandmother’s chambers.

“Yes, sweetie. I know. Did you go to console them?”

“Yes. Well, at first, no. I went to inform them we were to be separated. Then they told me of their parents’ demise. However, they died in battle, so their deaths were honorable.”

“Um, sweetie, let’s not go describing it that way to them. I don’t think they really care just how their parents died.”

“Perhaps you are correct, Abuelita. Anyway, I am going to shower so we may consume our evening meal. I have built up quite a hunger, especially since my meeting with Grandfather Draagh this morning.”

 

Draagh? That’s not possible. He’s dead. What’s she up to now?

 

Clarisa had barely finished her thought when she heard a light knock at her door. Smelling Max… and something else, she answered, surprised to see Jennie with him.

“Max! Jennie! Wow, you smell different, sweetie. Did you find a new perfume or something?”

Clarisa had only been informed that Draagh was dead, but had yet to receive any further information. Max walked in, kissed his mother on the cheek, with Jennie doing the same after he did. The two then took seats on her couch and gave her a solemn gaze.

“Mom, where’s Liliana?”

“She’s showering in her quarters sweetie, why?”

You haven’t told her anything about Draagh yet, have you?

“No, not at all. What happened, Max? And Jennie, why have you… oh my god – your eyes!”

“Nice, huh?” responded the beautiful hybrid.

“Did you get a gen-mod? Why would you do that?”

“Mom, she got a gen-mod, but not the way you think,” said Max.

“Okay, what happened? And I want to whole story, Maximilanus Gunnarsson.”

 

Thirty minutes later Clarisa Gunnarsson sat with a confounded expression, having heard the entire account of what happened, and still trying to digest it all. Jennie was now a Primulus hybrid, like Max, and Draagh would be gone for around a century.

“Max, I think there’s something you should know. Liliana told me she visited with Draagh this morning.”

“Well, that’s impossible,” said Jennie.

“Never say impossible, sweetie. We learned that long ago, but still. I’d like to ask her what happened.”

 

Liliana, are you done with your bath yet?” Clarisa asked over their local castle comm.

Yes, Abuelita. I am on my way. Oh, Papi is back, and with someone else!”

 

Liliana burst into her grandmother’s room and stopped dead in her tracks.

“Mami? Grandfather was correct! You have changed! Oh my, you are so pretty. I love your new eyes.”

Jennie gave her adopted daughter an astounded look, and asked, “Lili, when did you see Draagh?”

“Why this morning! I didn’t actually see him. He spoke to me, and told me that things were changing, and that you had changed. He also said he would help me whenever I was in need. Come! Let us have our evening meal!”

Liliana grabbed Jennie by the hand and pulled her up off the couch. It wasn’t but a moment later that the woman yanked her hand away.

“Liliana! You… touched my wedding ring! Didn’t you feel anything?”

“Feel what, Mami?”

“Shit, Jen. She wasn’t burned. Maybe my cantus didn’t work?” said Max.

“Hang on a sec. Clarisa, could you touch my… your ring – just quickly?”

“Sure sweetie, why? What’s the… ouch! What the hell?” Clarisa yelped, as the rhodium in Jennie’s ring made a shocking/burning sensation on the lovely lycan’s finger.

“Lili, come here please,” said Jennie, sitting down with her daughter and clasping her hand. “What did Draagh tell you?”

“He said that everything was changing, and that we would always be together. Then he touched my forehead. It felt funny, but I am fine now. I do like your ring. It is so pretty,” she said, as she fondled the beautiful rhodium setting.

Max knelt down in front of his daughter and looked deeply into her eyes, and what he found astounded him.

“Her eyes, Jen. Look. They were coffee brown before, and now they’re hazel. They have bits of green and gold in them.” He then produced an infoscreen and examined Liliana’s DNA, creating a comparative analysis with her previously logged genetic code. Two DNA strands rotated side by side, one looking much significantly complex than the other. The lesser one was from months earlier, and the more complex strand was from that very moment.

“She’s been changed. She’s not Primulus, but she’s been changed. I need to ask Dad about this.”

“Oh my god,” Jennie exclaimed breathlessly.

“Max, what does this mean?” asked Clarisa.

“Well, first of all, Draagh’s not completely gone, and secondly, well, Liliana is… more than just a minor-mage.”

“Yay! Grandfather was correct! I shall live forever with Mami and Papi!” she squealed in delight, and then looked at her parents lovingly. “Perhaps then my cantuses are more effective! Graveincantatio potentia!” she screamed, as she pointed at the wall.

 

Max, Jennie, Clarisa and Liliana all stood at the edge of the floor, where Clarisa’s bedroom wall used to be. The little girl, using a simple push cantus, had destroyed roughly two metric tons of stone and mortar, opening up Clarisa’s room to the outside world.

 

“Yup, she’s changed, alright,” said Max. “Lili, I think we need to go see your abuelito now.”

“Oh, that is such good news, Papi! Perhaps I can show him my new skills!”

 

Sweetie, that’s not in the plan, thought Max.

Chapter 39 – Vacuum

 

Max, Jennie, Clarisa and Liliana stood in Bagatelle’s office on the Revolution, facing Michael, who was seated at the admiral’s desk, an infoscreen floating before him.

“Hmm, yes, you are correct, son. She has been modified. Enhanced would be a proper term. She is the equivalent of a mezzo angel now.”

“Woah. We weren’t planning on this,” said Jennie.

“Father was always one to tinker. We should feel fortunate that he did it while out of his corporeal form.”

“Why’s that?” asked Max.

“He is much more powerful now that he is not hindered by a body, Max. I thought you would have known this.”

“Um, nope.”

“Very well, how shall we address this situation? The youngster definitely has much more power than she needs at this time.”

Liliana gave her grandfather a curious look, bordering on rebellion, when alarms suddenly went off throughout the ship.

“That’s a red alert!” cried Jennie.

G, what’s the alarm for?” Max asked over the comm.

Vrol are on the ship, Max.

Shit, and I have Liliana and Mom in your office. I gotta get them out of here.”

Do it quickly, Cuñado!”

Max was about to slip off the ship, spiriting Clarisa, Jennie and Liliana away, when the door to Bagatelle’s office blew open. Three Vrol ground bugs fought to get inside, but before they could enter the office Liliana went into action.

Graveincantatio potentia!” she screamed, pointing at the rancid insects, the power of her cantus disintegrating them and destroying 30 meters of the interior of the Revolution at the same time.

“Holy cow! If that were in the other direction we would have been sucked out into space! Lili! Be careful! We’re going now. Dad – Jen and I will be right back.”

“Nuuu, Papi! I want to fight! I just killed three more Vrol! It is my new record!”

Four people – two Prīmulī, one lycan and a little girl that was much more, disappeared with a light pop.

Michael also disappeared, entering into the fray of battle.

 

###

 

“Papi! Why can I not assist? I have proved my worth, have I not?”

“Lili. No. Stay.”

Max and Jennie blinked out of view as the little angel sat down on her grandmother’s couch, crossing her arms and pouting.

 

###

 

Max and Jennie appeared on the bridge of the Revolution and ran to Bagatelle’s side. The admiral was scanning a number of displays, tracking Vrol movements on his ship.

“Max, we have bugs in the corridors, as well as on the flight deck. We need to get rid of them quickly. The Brood Carrier is back, too.”

“Got it, G. I’ll slip them out into space. Jen, can you slip other things also?”

“I believe so, hun. Let’s do it.”

The two Prīmulī raced off the bridge, only to be passed up by none other than King Krynos, who was charging down halls, trampling any Vrol in his path. However, his attempts were futile, as he could only knock them over. Their temporary shields were much too powerful for the lycan king to overcome with brute strength.

“Have at ye, disgusting creatures of the netherworld! Die by the hand of Krynos, protector of Mankind!”

“Boy, he really takes his whole protector thing seriously, doesn’t he?” said Jennie, as she lithely slipped a small group of Vrol into the cold vacuum of space with a simple gesture.

“Yup. Ooh, good move. Looks like you have the ejection thing down,” responded Max.

 

When they could no longer find any Vrol nearby, they both slipped to the science lab, where Josh had the facility on lockdown. The last thing the young lieutenant wanted was for a Vrol to get its claws on the antimatter bomb he was modifying.

“As you were!” Max bellowed, not having the time for formalities. “Josh! Good move locking the lab down. How close are you to getting this thing done?”

“It’s done, sir.”

“Cool, get it all polished up and ready to go. Once we get out of range of the Brood Carrier I’ll slip it over.”

Josh turned and got to work, as Max contacted Bagatelle via the comm. “G, we need to slip out of here. I’m going to set the antimatter bomb inside the Brood Carrier, and then externally initiate it.”

Go for it, Max. We’ve already started the hook. We’ll be off in a matter of seconds.”

“Max – Krynos reports having found a huge group of Vrol in the landing bay. He says there are dozens. We need to help him out,” said Jennie, as she went to slip directly to Krynos’ side.

“Okay, you go and start to eliminate them. Stay clear, and just eject them. I’m taking the antimatter bomb over now,” he said, as he disappeared, the bomb going with him.

 

You’d better not screw up, dork.

 

Max found himself on the outside of the Vrol Brood Carrier, not able to get inside.

 

Dammit, probably the same cantus that kept us out of Vladros’ castle when we went to rescue Jennie.

 

He quickly slipped to various locations around the massive ship in the vacuum of space, looking for an entrance. Luckily finding one, he used a gravicantus to blow the bulkhead open, nearly being forced back by the depressurization from the interior. Dragging the bomb with him (while using a levitation cantus), he stood in a dark, slimy hallway, trying to figure out how to get as close to the inside of the ship as he could. In order for the bomb to work, it would need to be in the very center. On a whim, he conjured an infoscreen, and finding a massive space in the ship’s center, he tried another slip. This one worked, as he was already inside the moon-sized vessel.

 

What he saw astounded him.

There was what appeared to be a small Azulian transport vessel inside a large room. Curious, he quickly entered, looking around and examining the craft. Max saw a humanoid figure, immobilized, on the far side of the expansive chamber. He left the antimatter bomb behind and slipped to the person’s location.

 

Oh, hello, Chairman Dictator Dickhead.

 

Max was looking at Len Johnson, strapped to a bulkhead with numerous tubes and wires attached to his head and body. Max considered liberating the traitorous politician from his constraints, but figured he would just count Johnson as a casualty of war and not say anything.

 

Jennie would probably like that, he mused.

 

Max surmised that Johnson’s ship was what facilitated the Vrol’s ability to navigate side space. Thinking quickly, he went to his lycan phase 2 form and used his enhanced claws to tear up some of the wiring that connected the small craft to the carrier. Once he was satisfied he had effectively destroyed the Vrol’s side space navigational capabilities he went over to Johnson.

 

Hello, Mr. Chairman. You look comfortable.

 

Len Johnson was completely unconscious, and had no idea his hated enemy was staring at his face. Max considered waking him, but turned and slipped off the ship, porting himself the minimum distance away – 300 kilometers. Then he attempted his cantus to trigger the dead-man’s switch on the bomb.

 

Nothing happened.

 

Aw man, the same anti-slip cantus probably prevents magic from penetrating the hull. I’ll have to figure something else out.

 

Max, where are you?” Michael asked over a private comm channel.

Outside the Vrol ship. Why?

Gadreel is inside the vessel, I am assuming with his brother. We must take advantage of this situation.

Where are you?

Father’s office. Come quickly.”

 

Max used the Hub to slip to Draagh’s office in Krynos’ castle, finding his father, Gabriel, the king and Jennie standing at the expansive mahogany desk.

“Hi sweetie. Welcome back. Your dad brought me over,” his wife said.

“Hey Jen. So tell me, they’re inside the Vrol ship? This is too good.”

“We shall engage in glorious battle and finish these fools off immediately,” boomed Krynos, ready to enter into the exquisite field of gore.

“Yes they are, but we must act quickly. Samyaza retains slip capabilities, although not as robust as ours,” said Michael.

“Robust? What do you mean?” asked Max.

“The Grigori are rebels, son. Before they were cast from the Hub they had their genome modified. But that is of no consequence. We must go now.”

“Wait! We can’t slip inside. There’s some kind of cantus preventing slips in, but we can slip out.”

“How do you know this?” asked Gabriel.

“I just planted an antimatter bomb in the center of the ship.”

“Max, you shall take us to the ship. How did you enter?” continued Gabriel.

“I opened a door. Well, I kinda destroyed it.”

“Very well, take us there, “ said Michael.

“Wait! Outer space? I’ll die!” yelped Jennie.

“Aw no, Jen. You’re a hybrid like me now. You’ll be fine,” said Max, immediately feeling a thunderous slap to the back of his head.

“Ouch! Gabe! Seriously?”

“Max, while Jennie shall not perish, it cannot bode well for her to be exposed to the vacuum. She has yet to obtain her ghanlo, so she cannot move freely throughout the void. Aside from that, Krynos shall not survive but seconds without atmosphere.”

“Oh, crap. Okay. Sorry,” he said, getting a stupid look on his face, as Jennie looked at him wondering why he would be so quick to eject her into space. “Aw, Jen. I didn’t know. I’m sorry,” he said, kissing her on the cheek.

“They are still there. We go. Now,” said Michael.

 

The five found themselves outside the hull of the Vrol Brood Carrier, with Jennie and Krynos encapsulated inside a cantus-driven, pressurized oxygen bubble. Once inside, Max, threw a quick shield over the hole in the hull and created an air-tight seal. He then slipped everyone to the center of the ship, where Johnson and his small transport had been stored.

“What the hell is this?” demanded Jennie upon seeing an Azulian transport with a side space hook installed, albeit, with all of the wires pulled out as Max had earlier done.

“Just what we thought. This is what caused all these problems, hun. I disabled the hook drive, but we still have something to drag out of here.”

“Uh, what’s that?”

“It is Chairman Johnson. I believe he is quite incapacitated,” stated Gabriel, as he looked upon the dictator with a curious glare.

“That bastard!” yelled Jennie. “Let’s kill him now!”

“No Jen, we can’t. In fact, we have to take him back with us, but first…”

“First? Hahaha! No, there is only a last! You are finished, Cousin!” screamed Samyaza from the far side of the large chamber. “Welcome to my vessel. Well, the vessel of my wondrous creation, the Vrol.”

The fallen Primulus was accompanied not only by his brother Gadreel, but also dozens of lower and mezzo angels, as well as hundreds of Vrol, all clicking their pinschers and mandibles in anticipation of a quick meal. Alongside Samyaza was Anaita, who was wearing an arrogant smirk. The Primulus truly believed she was on the winning side as she looked at her hopelessly outnumbered cousins.

The team looked around, taking stock of their options. They weren’t trapped in any sense of the word, but still wanted to terminate the war without further casualties. They had two choices – slip out or stay and fight.

 

They chose to stay

 

Michael lurched forward and executed a fire cantus, creating a wall of flame that caused the resident Vrol to screech and back up. Krynos went crazy at the same time, spraying fire with his Tornado rifle.

“Wow, he looks awesome with a modern weapon, doesn’t he?” asked Max.

Jennie looked over and was equally impressed, watching as the lycan king mowed down dozens of Vrol, each having its own weapon and firing randomly.

Gabriel shot toward Samyaza’s location, his wings extended, and fanning the flames in their direction, while driving them further into the bulkhead and causing the bugs to trample their lower and middle angel allies. Max slipped forward and used gravicantuses to push the rancid creatures back, as well as break the bones of more than a few lower angels. As he attempted to do more damage, Jennie was quietly in the background, shielding her stupid/brave husband. He may have had a PhD, but he seriously lacked in quick-thinking skills. When it came to inventing, Max was the best, but when it came to battles, he was no more than a mindless beast, destroying anything in his path.

 

And it actually turned her on.

 

Max, start to pound the bugs on the left, and force them to the right. We need to corner them off,” she said over their familial connection, left open for Michael and Gabriel.

Got it, hun. Dad, can you compliment that?

Yes son. I shall direct my flames toward the back-corner of the chamber.

It is too hot for my wings. I need to cool off,” said Gabriel, as he shot back to Johnson’s craft, landing next to Max’s antimatter bomb.

 

Krynos had a centipede in his massive grip, crushing its neck portal with one hand, while laying down a spray of charge rounds and keeping others away from his position. Anaita slipped to his side and attempted to hit him with a push cantus, but Gabriel had created a protective, anti-cantus shield around the huge lycan. Noticing her to his back, he swung around and let his Tonado slip loose from his grasp, grabbing the rifle’s strap as it rushed by his hand. A quick flick of his wrist guided the massive weapon directly into Anaita’s face, breaking her nose and knocking her back a few meters.

“Apologies, my dear. It is not often one such as myself hits a female, but I have been informed that you are much more a warrior, and much less a lady,” the king craftily cackled.

 

Brother, nullify the protections here,” said Michael.

Certainly. Max, is this your weapon?

Looking back, he thought out, “Yeah. Why? What’s up?

We shall need to detonate this. It would be best to surprise everyone.”

Yeah, no shit, Sherlock! But it’s a dead-man’s switch. It detonates when someone releases that red lever. It’s a suicide trip.”

Sherlock? Max, please do not use colloquial phrases while in battle,” Michael communicated.

Sorry, pops. Okay, we need to figure out a way to get these idiots to set off the bomb for us. But how?

Max, have you been paying attention to Krynos?” asked Jennie, sounding worried.

 

Everyone looked over to the far side of the chamber. Krynos was flat on his back

 

Krynos is down, and he’s not moving,” said Max.

I’ll attend to him,” said Jennie. “Michael, keep hitting these guys.”

 

Michael wanted to keep Samyaza in place as long as possible. The advantage he had was that they were in the ship of his insectoid creations, and could do significant damage to the craft from the inside. Pummeling the opposition with cantus after cantus, he finally resorted to instigating the heady former Primulus with crude words of insult.

 

Brother, do you remember goading me into fights when we were young?”

Yes, Michael. Why do you ask?”

I need for you to do the same to Samyaza. Do it now, please.

 

“Samyaza, you are a coward,” boasted Gabriel. “You are not worthy of your bloodline. By the way, you do know that our father banished yours for siding with the ghouls, do you not? Yes, he was in bed with them, and in more ways than one,” said a gloating Gabriel, obviously trying to get Samyaza to stay and fight.

“Never! My father was an honorable Primulus. He only sought to restore the natural order,” yelled Samyaza, the veins on his forehead bulging out from massively high blood pressure.

While Gabriel went on with his verbal assault, Max continued to hit back at bugs entering from side hallways, while wondering what the hell his wife was doing.

 

Jennie sat crouched next to Krynos. The thousand year-old lycan king had a dozen bullet holes in his torso, and was bleeding out of his eyes, ears, nose and mouth, as well as his chest.

“Krynos, what happened? I thought Gabriel had a shield cantus around you?”

“Rhodium bullets, my child,” he coughed, “and the archangel’s cantus was only against magical attacks. I shall soon pass on to the Elysian Fields to battle with my ancestors.”

Jennie saw Anaita scrambling away, and could smell death in the air. One of her new abilities as a Primulus was the capacity to detect the stench of finality, and it permeated her highly sensitive olfactory organ. Krynos was done. If he didn’t die within five minutes, it would be ten.

“Is there anything I can do? Contact anyone for you?”

“No, young one. Donus shall be king. He is aware of this.”

“Mmmm, okay. Hey, can I ask you something?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Wanna do something real cool?”

“Speak on, child…”

 

###

 

“Your father was an abomination! He eschewed the natural order. Instead, he attempted to recreate Jah’s universe in his own image. Your father deserved banishment. He is finished!” screamed Gabriel, apparently getting into his goading act.

Samyaza surged ahead, going to attack to massively powerful archangel out of pure anger. That was his first major mistake. As soon as he was within twenty meters, Michael was able to silently disconnect him from his ship-wide shield cantus. His second error was to try to hit Michael with a clenched fist. The powerful Taxiarch then merely point-punched down at the ground, slamming the reject’s head into the cold floor of the ship. All the while, Max noticed that Gadreel was skulking in the background, with Anaita at his side. She had honestly believed she wouldn’t be injured, but a mere mortal had disfigured her face, even though it was already on the mend. Max wanted to damage the younger brother of the Grigori leader, but had a solid wall of offensively smelly bugs between him and his quarry.

 

He looked back and saw Jennie crouched down next to Krynos.

 

Slipping over to Jennie’s side, Max saw a massive and very injured lycan king being held up by his wife, who was tiny in comparison. He could smell the rhodium in Krynos’ body and became alarmed, knowing that the metal was the most lethal substance in existence for lycans, as well as vampires.

“Jen! What’s the meaning of this? King, you should be in the infirmary. I’ll slip you over,” he said.

“Max, I shall stay till the bitter end. It is my wish. Do not disobey your king.”

“Dude, seriously? You’re leaking like a sieve and need medical attention. Rhodium’s no laughing matter.”

Krynos growled and grabbed Max’s hand, with his look changing from defiant to pleading.

“Please, Max. I shall stay.”

 

Samyaza noticed that Krynos had been injured and laughed out loud. The lycan had numerous bullet holes in his body, and he was dying – that much was obvious. He coughed out spittles of bubbling blood as his breathing became more and more labored. Samyaza smelled Krynos’ death and reveled in his defeat.

“Ha! Your much-vaunted king faces his own demise!” Samyaza bellowed across the chamber.

Krynos, are you ready?” Jennie said quietly.

Yes, I am, child.”

Sit here. Put your hand on this. Don’t let go until we’re gone.

I shall miss you, child.

Me too,” she whispered back.

 

Michael stopped his frontal attack and held his hands up, almost as if he were offering surrender.

“What is this, Cousin? Have you tired already?” asked Samyaza.

Michael looked at the carnage on the deck – hundreds of dead bugs covered the floor, their chitinous limbs and torsos littering the enclosed landscape. But Michael didn’t respond. He merely continued walking toward Samyaza.

While Michael kept Samyaza busy Max slipped to Len Johnson and looked over at his wife, his eyes pleading for help. The gorgeous hybrid shot over to him with a local 3D slip, and asked, “What do you need, hun?”

“Johnson. He’s coming back with us. We need a trial. We have to disconnect him first.”

“Let him die, Max.”

“Jen, work with me here. He needs to go on trial.”

Jennie groaned and went to help Max tear away tubes and wires that had kept Len Johnson a prisoner inside the Vrol vessel. The two carefully disconnected the slimy wiring that connected his cerebral cortex to the ship, but when they both glanced down at the mass of tubes coming out from between his legs Jennie said, “No. No way. I’m not touching that.”

Max grimaced and reached down, yanking a handful of tubes out from Johnson’s hindquarters, followed by a cantus that basically kept the despot’s guts from falling out.

“Max, that is so nasty!”

“Yup. Well, the last things holding him to the wall are the wrist restraints.”

When the final wrist cuff was released, the former dictator fell forward onto his face, with neither trying to break his fall.

“Oops, my bad,” said Jennie.

“Baby, slip Johnson out of here and back to the Revolution. You’ll know how to get there because you just came from it, so the coordinates are in your brain.”

“Max, what if I get stuck out there? I could die!”

Max hesitated for a moment, and then touched Johnson, slipping the deposed dictator directly to the bridge of the Revolution. Looking up at a surprised Bagatelle, Max again disappeared, coming back in at Krynos’ side.

 

“So, Archangel, what are the terms of your surrender? And do not insult me with a plea for the lives of the monkeys.”

Jennie strode forward, dedication and purpose in her gait. She didn’t care for anything aside from the Grigori’s defeat. “Hey dickhead! This is where it ends – your bugs – your crap behind the scenes. It all ends now.”

“Oh, and just how do you manage to terminate our activities, lycan stain?” asked Samyaza.

Gadreel walked up to his older brother, placing a hand on his shoulder. Samyaza seemed to take comfort in his brother’s touch and placed his hand over Gadreel’s.

“Brother, I must agree. This is where it ends,” said Gadreel.

 

Jen, what the hell are you doing? Why is Krynos on the dead-man’s switch?

He’s the perfect recipe for winning this war.

No! Take him to the infirmary! That’s an order!

Sorry, baby. My orders come from a higher source.”

Who? Did Gabe put you up to this?

No hun. Draagh did. Shut up and let’s kill these bastards. Krynos is walking dead anyway. There’s way too much rhodium floating in his bloodstream, and his health particles are in full freakout mode. Now stop wasting my time.

Dad,” said Max, “the bomb’s ready. How are we keeping these guys here?

Gadreel shall handle that, my son.”

“Huh?”

 

Samyaza carefully analyzed Max’s expression, and could tell the hybrid was preparing to depart. Detecting danger himself, he turned to grab his brother and leave, but instead felt a large hand painfully digging into his shoulder. Spinning around he saw Gabriel.

“You have been a very naughty boy, Samyaza. Now it is time to join the shards of disconnected minds that wander the universe.”

“I think not, Gabriel. I… um… hey… what is this?”

A trapped Samyaza turned back around, a shocked expression lining his face, as he saw Max, Jennie, Gabriel, Michael and Gadreel looking at him.

“What is this? Brother! What have you done?”

“I have done nothing, Samyaza. Well, aside from helping to eliminate centuries of your torture, as well as saving the human race – nothing else, brother. However, our uncle provided me with a most effective cantus that negates your ability to leave.”

“I cannot depart. Take me from here! Now!”

“No, Cousin. You shall remain here with your beautiful creations,” said Gabriel.

Various angels, including Anaita started slipping away, their collective departures leaving loud popping sounds, as Samyaza, the leader of the Grigori, was left alone with his insect underlings.

“I… I cannot slip. I am doomed!”

“That’s the idea, asshole,” said Jennie before she slipped to the side of a near-unconscious Krynos. Acting fast, she knelt down and slapped the lycan in the face.

“King! Wake up! It’s time!”

“Jennie. Yes. Time. I shall count from ten.”

“Starting… now!”

“10 – 9 – 8…”

The beautiful woman leaned forward, kissing the king on the forehead. Touching his temples, she became curious.

 

I wonder what his last thoughts are?

 

Aside from his countdown, she only detected blank space. But digging down deeper into the recesses of his conscious mind she heard a lone voice – a single word. A name.

 

Carmen

 

Jennie gave him a startled looked and disappeared, slipping to her husband’s side.

At that moment, a massive group of ground bugs swarmed the chamber near where Len Johnson used to be. Clicking excitedly, the hive mind went crazy when they spied Krynos on the floor.

 

“[What is this? Another human? It speaks.]”

“[It looks large and delicious. Vrol shall eat it.]”

“[Yes, Vrol feed. It is our purpose.]”

 

“Goodbye, Brother,” said Gadreel.

Samyaza let out a blood-evaporating scream as his mortal enemies (and now-estranged brother) easily vacated the premises, leaving him trapped and alone with millions of insects, as well as his remaining underlings.

 

At that same moment, Krynos König’s lifeless hand fell from the dead-man’s switch.

 

###

 

Max Gunnarsson stood on the bridge of the Revolution, watching a brilliant light in the distance. The illumination grew in size until it nearly encompassed the entire outside view screen. After a few moments, it dissipated into nothingness.

 

“Ensign, status!” demanded Bagatelle.

“Sir, the Vrol vessel was destroyed.”

The bridge erupted into cheers, as hats were thrown and applause rung out. However, Bagatelle wanted proof, and quickly silenced his staff.

“Silence! Ensign, are you sure?”

“Admiral, it was destroyed. Krynos released the switch,” said Max. “He had a comm which would have enabled me to track him in side space had they escaped. Plus, I disabled their hook drive before we came back,” he finished, as he looked down at Len Johnson. The former dictator was covered in sticky, black goo, and tried to move as he slowly regained consciousness.

“Ah, he awakes,” said Bagatelle. “Greetings, Mr. Chairman.”

Len Johnson, traitor to all humanity, merely held his trembling arms up, wrists together. He felt there was nothing Bagatelle could do to him that would be worse than what he had just been through.

“Throw him in the brig,” commanded the admiral, giving Johnson his just deserts. Two large security officers (both lycans from the Rhönen) picked Johnson up and dragged him off. The former dictator fell limp in their grasp, not even protesting.

“Admiral, are all Vrol off the ship?” asked Max.

“I can verify that, Max,” said Michael, as he walked back onto the bridge. “I just performed a scan, and all have been eliminated.”

“Hey Gaddy, what did you do back there?” asked Max.

“Captain, your grandfather and I had a plan. However, my brother, being quite paranoid, always kept me under strict surveillance, so I had to play the part of double-agent.”

“And you had nothing to do with my wife’s demise?”

“Hey! I’m still here, dork!”

Max smiled at his now-immortal wife. “Just getting some background, sweetie.”

“No, Captain. I had nothing to do with it. In fact, do you not remember me warning you all of the danger posed to Mrs. Gunnarsson?”

“I do remember that. Anyway, what do you plan on doing now? Your brother is dead and you’re basically free.”

“A number of Grigori still exist, Captain. I am assuming Anaita will be their default leader, and we should bring her to justice.”

“Wow, you know, I never thought of that. Is there a Prīmulī court or anything?”

“No, son. Our justice is more of a direct nature,” said Michael.

“Um yeah. You’re right there. Well, Gaddy, welcome to the family, I guess.”

“Thank you Captain. I appreciate the gesture, though I believe it will probably come to a vote.”

“Sounds good. Until then, no more of this Captain crap. My name’s Max,” he said, extending his hand.

Chapter 40 – Undesired Changes

 

Max, Jennie, Gabriel and Michael stood before Krynos’ throne, watching, as Prime Commander Donus, now King Donus, uneasily ascended and took a seat. Each person in the audience dropped down to a single knee and bowed their head to the new sovereign of the Rhönen Dominion. Dozens of subjects of the kingdom were present, all having heard the sad news of King Krynos’ passing. He was the only king they had ever known. Through centuries of hard work he brought order and wealth to his lands, all the while gaining his subjects’ love and appreciation. Aside from locals, numerous troops from Isamu’s samurai clan were also in attendance, each bowing in respect to the new lycan king.

“It is with a heavy heart that I assume the throne. Krynos was a king like no other. I can only hope to be half the leader he was,” said Donus.

“My liege, I believe you shall be a fine king. You have the love and respect of all in this land, and of course, us to back you up,” said Max, giving his friend a kind wink.

“Thank you, Captain. Please, if you would, retell the tale of Krynos’ passing, so that it may be recorded into the history of the Rhönen Dominion for all to read.”

 

Max started to again tell Krynos’ story, conveniently leaving out the part where the king had murdered Jennie. The castle historian furiously scribbled away on parchment, recording the events that emanated from the mouth of the off-worlder.

 

A short while later, Max, Jennie and Michael had joined Clarisa, and were looking out through the massive, gaping hole that had been a wall in the quarters the woman shared with her lover. Liliana was asleep on the couch, snoring lightly. She had tried to stay awake for her parents’ arrival, but nature took its toll – she was bushed.

“Wow,” said Michael, while trying to use some English slang. “That’s one big-ass hole.”

Jennie looked at him with a quizzical expression, while Max tried to suppress his laughter. However, Clarisa had an opposite reaction.

“What? Big-ass hole? She could have killed us!”

“Mom, you saw what she did on the ship. She leveled half of beta deck. They haven’t even begun to repair the damage.”

“That’s just way too much power for a little girl to have,” said Jennie.

“I agree, my daughter. I shall create a cap on young Liliana’s abilities. It shall remain in place until she reaches puberty.”

“She’s gonna be pissed off, you know,” said Max.

“Oh yeah, but it’s all we can do, baby. She already had control issues before.”

“Wow, poor Kyle. He’d be dead by now,” Max nearly laughed, remembering the various times Liliana had accidentally tortured the poor boy.

Michael waved his hand and the wall started to reform itself, brick by brick. In moments it was as it was before Liliana’s demonstration. He then sat down next to his granddaughter – a little girl who was brought into his life through love and sacrifice – and touched her temple. A soft, orange glow emanated from his fingertips while he worked his cantus – a definite fix, but not a permanent one.

“It is done,” he said, looking down at the sleeping child.

“That’s it? So, she’ll be like normal until she hits puberty? What happens then?” asked Jennie.

“When her hormonal changes happen, the cantus shall lose its effectiveness, my daughter. I shall then be required to create yet another. Well, unless Max wants to make one.”

“Not me, no way,” said Max, being afraid he would do something disastrous.

He then picked his daughter up and carried her off to her room, putting her into bed. Max was immensely thankful his mother and Janice had ben caring for her, and felt confident his mother’s future influence would be a positive one. Liliana had violent tendencies, but she was born into a violent world, and all things being relative, she was just another Rhönen kid – until she met Jennie.

Max brushed her bangs from her face, looking down at her lovingly. Jennie sat next to him, leaning her head onto his shoulder, trying to keep everything that had happened out of her mind.

As she relaxed up against him he thought about the past couple of days – she had been murdered by one of their best friends, his grandfather had resurrected her, and she was now a Primulus, albeit without a ghanlo, which she would have to find on her own. King Krynos was dead, using his last breath to trigger the massive antimatter bomb that destroyed the Vrol Brood Carrier, along with the Grigori.

 

Draagh was right. It really was a combination of magic and technology that won the war.

 

Liliana woke up, quietly going to the bathroom and then brushing her teeth. She felt good, but a bit different. Wanting to test her new abilities, she slipped out of her bedroom, arriving in the field outside the castle. She turned and waved to the soldiers guarding the castle, who all knew her and were aware of her penchant for slipping around the grounds. One of them waved back, shaking his head and managing to hide his smirk. Everyone in the castle loved the little girl, and she was going to miss them all when she finally moved to Azul.

She walked up to a tree she didn’t particularly care for (it was nearly dead, and never grew leaves anymore), and concentrating, said, “Graveincantatio potentia!

The tree trunk only moved slightly.

Confused, she tried her cantus again, getting the same results. It should have been uprooted and decimated, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

 

Nosy adults! They did something to me, the bastards. Hmm, what about my non-destructive abilities?

 

Wishing to avoid tanking her magical skills, the little lycan/angel walked into the castle instead of slipping in. Once inside, she greeted numerous soldiers and servants in her typical morning manner – with a huge smile, and bright, twinkling now-hazel eyes. Bounding down into the kitchen, she found the friend she had introduced to her parents some days earlier.

“Lucinda! Guten morgen!”

“Ah, guten morgen, Liliana. Did you sleep well? I fear I did not, as our beloved King Krynos has passed on to the afterworld.”

“Yes, I know. That sucks quite harshly. I am certain King Donus shall provide adequate leadership, in any case.”

“I must agree, my friend. So what brings you to the kitchen this morning?”

"I come to request your assistance. You see, I recently acquired new abilities, and would like to test them. However, the tree outside should have been destroyed and -"

Lucinda gasped, not wanting to be Liliana’s personal punching bag. “Miss Liliana, please, with your experiments comes a great deal of pain. Could you not test your skills on something inanimate?”

The smallest Gunnarsson laughed and shook her head. “The skills I wish to test are not of an explosive nature, Lucinda. They are more along the lines of control.”

"Will it pain me? Will I --"

The servant girl stomped on the kitchen floor, performing the Rhönen line dance while she washed plates and cups. She had no idea what she was doing – her body merely did what it was commanded. Other servants watched with amazement as the young woman cleaned with a fury and efficiency unmatched in all the Dominion. Liliana grew a smirk, realizing that although her destructive abilities had been throttled back, her power of suggestion was many times stronger than it had been before.

Releasing Lucinda from her cantus, Liliana then took the memory from the girl’s mind and gauged her reaction.

"-- feel anything? I do not desire to visit the infirmary yet again, my little friend."

Liliana smiled and shook her head, saying, “Oh, that is fine, Lucinda. I have decided to try my new skills elsewhere. Thank you!”

The little angel bounded off, satisfied she at least had some enhanced skills that could be put to good use.

 

Lucinda looked down at her hands, wondering why they were covered in dish soap.

 

“Good morning Mami and Papi!” yelped Liliana, as she jumped onto Max and Jennie’s bed, surprising both, with Jennie quickly pulling the covers up over her nude figure. The little girl gave her mother a knowing glance, but then appeared to not care.

“Morning, sweetie. Did you sleep well?” asked Jennie.

“Oh yes, Mami. I already had my morning meal, and am ready for classes.”

“So, Lili, how are you feeling today?” inquired Max, while trying to not be too obvious.

“I am fine, Papi. Why do you ask?”

“No reason. Just morning small talk, I guess.”

Liliana started to do cartwheels in the bedroom, keeping her movements confined to a small space.

 

Wow, maybe we should put her in gymnastics when we get back to Azul

 

Jennie smiled and reached down under the covers, pulling out her panties and tank top, which she usually kept conveniently stashed for Liliana’s morning antics. Quickly slipping them on while her daughter spun around the room like a whirling dervish, she slid out of bed and walked over to the bathroom to brush her teeth.

“Lili, whut time do clashes shtart?” she asked, her mouth full of toothpaste.

“Oh! I believe I must go now. Are you to go to Azul today?”

“I think that’s the plan, sweetie,” said Max.

“Okay. Please feel free to contact me in case you are in need of assistance and find any more putrid insects on the planet. I have killed seven Vrol already, so my battle-worthiness has been tested and verified. And that goes for vampires also, Mami.”

“Sure, hun. We’ll let you know.”

The little girl bounced out of the room, slamming the door behind her.

“Where the hell does she get all that energy?” asked Max.

“No idea, but she didn’t say anything about her power cap,” said Jennie.

“Maybe she hasn’t tried a cantus yet. Betcha she’s furious when she figures it out.”

 

###

 

“Dad, Jen and I are heading off to Azul after lunch,” said Max, as he stood before his father while holding his wife’s hand. Michael had commandeered Draagh’s castle office as his own, now that the ancient Primulus was out of reach, and was seated behind the massive mahogany desk that had so well served his father for centuries.

“According to your mother I shall also have a need to go. Liliana must be registered in the local educational institution.”

“St. Mary’s – yeah, where I went. Great school. Hey, can you start trying to speak in a less-archaic form of English? If we’re going to live on Azul you’re going to need to fit in. Talking like William Shakespeare isn’t gonna cut it.”

“Ah, William. He was a good man, though a fraud.”

“Huh?” both Max and Jennie cried out.

“Oh yes. Someone else wrote most of his plays. He operated more on the lines of editor and producer.”

“But he was a good man?”

“He had a penchant for the brew, that much is certain.”

“Dad, in normal English please.”

“Um… he liked to pound beers?”

“Better,” laughed Max.

“Michael, did you ever visit Earth during the 1960’s” asked Jennie, remembering the world where she had first met the Taxiarch – a vegan/hippie society where animal flesh was inconsumable and everyone sat around smoking herb all day.

“I did a couple of times,” he said, trying to use a more modern form of English.

“What did you see?”

“The assassination of President Kennedy, for one” the archangel stated bluntly.

“Oh wow! No way! So, who did it? Was is that Oswald guy?”

Michael smirked and shook his head, saying, “Oswald wasn’t the only one to fire upon the poor, unfortunate soul. His own people also discharged their firearms at him, but they were all being controlled.”

“By who or what?” asked Max.

“Kennedy had recently unearthed knowledge of the true nature of the universe. He knew of the Prīmulī, enhanced subspecies and had even met with extraterrestrials living on Earth.”

“So? What’s so bad about that?” asked Jennie.

“He was going to reveal his knowledge to the world, which would have resulted in society collapsing into chaos. Some of us were assigned to silence him. We tried many non-lethal methods, including having him being caught in compromising situations, but nothing worked. His elimination was the last resort.”

“Sucked for him, eh?” said Max.

“Yup. It sucked.”

“Who did it?” asked Jennie.

“It wasn’t me, daughter. I rather liked the man.”

“Hey! Just a minute! There were aliens on Earth? Who were they?”

“Their names do not matter, Max, but I believe they were identified in certain conspiracy circles as Greys.”

“Greys. They were little, skinny, grey-skinned aliens with huge, black eyes and no hair. Giant heads, too,” said Jennie.

“How did they get to Earth? Were they from far away?” asked Max.

“They used what you call side space, Max. Their home world, I believe, resides in the Perseus Arm of the Milky Way. Their trips took them many years, so they maintained bases of operation on Earth. Their method of entering into side space was quite different than the one you devised. In fact, theirs would have been so toxic to humans that any Earthling attempting to ride in their ship would have died within hours. For this reason they never even bothered sharing any of their technology for transit through the void.”

“So Max really did invent Mankind’s technology for travel in side space,” stated Jennie.

“Yes, he did, Jennie.”

Max was slightly relieved no one on Earth had beaten him to the development of a viable FTL drive. He was aware of the vast distances in the Milky Way. It was a seven-day trip from Azul to Earth in side space, and the planets were relatively close, both being in the Orion Arm. “Um, so what were they on Earth for?”

“Water, mostly. Unlike Mankind, they were created to evolve from a lesser species.”

“What kind of species?” asked Jennie.

“Similar to your dolphins, air-breathing, but not quite qualifying as mammal, according to your definition, as the females did not nurse their young. Their neocortexes were, however, massive, hence their unusually large skulls. They also studied humans, as their own race had been genetically modified so frequently that their base code was all but permanently corrupted.”

“Base… code?” asked Jennie.

DNA is like a computer application, but much, much more complex. If you start playing with the code you’ll eventually wreck the application, or at least parts of it. They had gone beyond the point of no return, and wanted to join human DNA with their own genome. It was survival, pure and simple.”

“So, they knew about the Prīmulī then, right?” said Max.

“Not at all. We have observed them, of course, but the same rules apply all over the universe.”

“Okay boys – enough about little green men. Let’s go eat.”

 

###

 

Liliana sat next to her grandfather and quietly ate her lunch. She seemed to be on her best behavior, which was unusual, and caused her uncle Gabriel to wonder what she was up to. Aside from Jessica, the little girl was probably his favorite human in the galaxy, so his concern for her knew no bounds.

“Liliana, I hear my father visited with you. Can you tell me what that was like?” he asked.

“Oh yes, Tío. I did not actually see him, but he spoke to me. He told me that things were going to change, and then he touched my forehead and changed me too.”

“Really? How did he change you, exactly?”

“He gave me incredible power, of course. Abuelito,” she continued, looking at Michael, “I see you have repaired the damage done by my cantus. I do hope it was not too taxing.”

“Oh no, Liliana. It was quite easy. In fact, I fixed a number of things.”

“Oh… did you?”

Michael felt Jennie kick his leg under the table, and looking over he saw her flinching an eye. Not knowing what to do, he awkwardly winked his eye back at her, which nearly caused Max to laugh out loud.

“Yes. Oh yes. I also repaired the toilet. It has been acting up a bit lately, you know.”

“Hmm, yes. I assumed that was the case. You are so smart, Abuelito. Well, I must return to classes. We are to take a field trip today, and I am leading the group.”

“That’s great, sweetie. Where are you all going?” asked Jennie.

“To see my sharks, of course. The children are all terrified of my pets, but I have assured them that they are quite intelligent, and shan’t eat any children… today.”

“Have fun, Lili,” said Max, as the little girl jumped up and gave her family members each a kiss on the cheek before running out the door, her signature tornado trailing behind her.

“We’re going to have to get her to stop with the elemental cantuses before we move to Azul,” said Jennie.

“We can do that, hun, but no matter what, St. Mary’s will never be the same,” laughed Max, referring to his primary and secondary school, where they planned on having Liliana attend.

“She was a good woman,” said Gabriel.

“Who’s that?” asked Jennie.

“Mary.”

“Was there really a virgin birth?” Max inquired.

“Of course. Jah is without equal,” said Michael.

“Well, I’m sure he is without equal, but it doesn’t sound like fun, ya know?” giggled Jennie, as she leaned up against Max.

 

###

 

That evening, Bagatelle and Alicia met with Max, Jennie, Gabriel, Jessica, Michael, Clarisa and Pandy for dinner in the castle’s commissary. They both looked incredibly relieved that the Vrol and Grigori were defeated, but at the same time were devastated over the catastrophe of Oz’ main city.

“Most of New Sydney looks worse than where we’re from,” said Jessica.

“Comparatively speaking, yes, I would agree,” added Pandy.

“I wonder what the original Sydney looked like?” said Jennie.

“The Founders didn’t use the original city as a model for the new one, Jennie. The only thing similar between the two was the name,” said Alicia.

“So G, what’s the state of the Union? Did the politicians make it out alive?” asked Max.

“They were already in hiding. Inactive lycans or not, politicians tend to go into self-preservation mode when danger is present. Of course they say they must keep the government going as an excuse to save their own hides. The only one who actually went out and fought was President Bierle.”

“Well, where are they then?” asked Clarisa.

“Most are in Buenos Aires, but some are in Bern, Schweiz,” said Alicia.

“We have our hands filled with hunting down loose Vrol and uncovering activated vamp nests,” said Bagatelle. “No time to worry about chickenshit politicians.”

“So, where is Johnson right now?” asked Max.

“Buenos Aires Federal Penitentiary. And he’s staying there until his trial.”

“And after the trial?” asked Jennie.

“Right back to the same hole we originally put him in.”

“Man, I hope he doesn’t get off,” said Max.

“Oh, he won’t, baby,” said Jennie.

“How can you be sure, little sister?”

“Because I’m going to kill him.”

“Jennie, you can’t go doing that,” said Bagatelle. “We have a Constitution, and we must follow the rule of law.”

 

Max, dammit! We should have left him to die on the bug ship!”

Have faith, Jen. It’ll all work out. I promise.”

 

Everyone stared at Jennie with disbelief. They knew she was gung-ho, but she had just openly admitted having a desire to murder someone, even though he was a murderer himself.

“Okay, so I won’t actually kill him. Maybe I’ll pay someone on the inside to do it for me.” Jennie waited a few seconds, and giggled, “Kidding!”

“Well it does happen frequently, you know,” said Alicia, trying to diffuse the mood in the air.

Before the discussion continued, Liliana showed up for dinner, causing the conversation to take a different tone.

“Hello, everyone!” she chimed.

“Evening, sweetie. Are you done with your homework?” asked Jennie.

“Yes, Mami. However, I would like for Papi to look at my math.”

“Sure, Lili. I’ll check it out once we’re finished.”

“How was your field trip today, Liliana? Did your friends like your pets?” asked Michael.

“Yes, Abuelito. They even dared to pet Hermes on the nose. It was quite exciting.”

“Liliana, have you decided who will care for the sharks when we move to Azul?” asked Clarisa, causing the little girl to gain a mildly sad expression. She was relatively excited about her upcoming move, but knew she would miss her pets tremendously.

“No, I have not yet, Abuelita. I believe a lottery shall be required.”

“A lottery? Why so?”

“I have already received requests from eight children in my class. They desire to be my apprentices.”

“More like minions, I’d say,” coughed Max.

“Oh, how was your training? Did you learn any new valuable skills with which to kill the bad angels?”

“Yeah, sweetie. Your mother and I will be an awesome team,” said Max.

Liliana smiled and dug into her meal, content with the knowledge that her parents were progressing, just as she was. However, she chose to not say anything about her noticeably reduced power levels with offensive cantuses. She was a smart girl, and knew if she mentioned anything it was possible they would also put a cap on her non-offensive abilities.

Everyone was preparing to depart the dining room, when newly crowned King Donus entered. Everyone dropped down to a knee, with the lycan saying, “Please, my friends. There is no need to bow.”

The entire team stood back up, except for Liliana, who still feared the man a bit.

“Liliana, would you stay and speak with your king for a moment?”

“Yes, my liege. It would be my honor.”

Donus winked at Max and Jennie, bringing a smile to the couple as they left.

“Don’t be late, Liliana. I’m going to check your math now,” said Max.

Once everyone else had departed, Donus took a seat and called the young girl over.

“Liliana, I must trust that you will do something very important.”

“But of course, King Donus. How may I be of assistance?”

“You can tell no one that your grandfather, the mage Draagh, has disappeared. We cannot have rumors flying throughout the castle, and then possibly out to the lands of the vampires. They may be emboldened by his absence.”

Liliana nodded her small head and smiled. “The secret shall remain with us, my king.”

“Very well. Now go to your parents.”

Liliana got up and went for the doorway, but Donus called to her before she was gone.

“And Liliana?”

“Yes, sir?”

“I shall miss you, once you have departed these lands for the world of your parents. Still, I am extremely happy for you.”

“Oh thank you, King Donus.”

“And I am very, very proud to have been your friend.”

The little girl shot over to the new king like a blur, and he found himself being hugged by her before she disappeared with a light pop.

 

###

 

Max, Jennie and Gabriel stood in Draagh’s office, waching as Michael analyzed his infoscreen, looking for any other abnormalities in Azul space.

“Well, we’ve won, it appears. The Vrol as well as the entire Grigori contingency have been eliminated.

“The why don’t we visit President Bierle?” asked Max.

“Good idea, hun!” Jennie had never visited Schweiz before, and looked forward to getting into the new president’s head.

 

###

 

Max, Jennie and Gabriel stood in f