Sergeant Ted Pearson of the Lincolnshire Police stamped his cold feet on the pavement, and checked his watch again. His partner, Constable Dave Fleming, watched him, a nervous look on his face.
Half ten, thought the Sergeant, with a grimace. I should be at home with my feet up. Sharon's making lasagne tonight, and it's never as good warmed through.
The 999 call had been made from the hospital's reception desk at 9.50pm. Sergeant Pearson and his partner had been finishing up the paperwork on an illegal immigration case they were working on one of the farms near Louth, both men looking forward to getting the forms filed and heading home, when they had been told the call was theirs. Grumbling, they had climbed into their car and driven the short distance from the police station to the hospital, blue lights spinning above them, their siren blaring through the freezing January night.
They had reached the hospital in a little over three minutes, and were questioning the nurse who had made the call, a young Nigerian woman with wide, frightened eyes, when Sergeant Pearson's radio buzzed into life. The message it conveyed was short and to the point.
"Secure access to potential crime scene. Do not investigate, or talk to potential witnesses. Stand guard until relieved."
Pearson had sworn loudly down his receiver, but the voice on the other end, a voice he didn't recognise but which was definitely not the usual dispatcher, was already gone. So he had done as he was told; instructed Constable Fleming to cease his questioning of the nurse, and informed all staff that access to the hospital's blood bank was forbidden without direct permission from him. Then he and his partner had taken up positions outside the side entrance to the hospital, shivering in the cold, waiting to be relieved. By who, or what, they didn't know.
"What's going on Sarge?" asked Constable Fleming, after fifteen minutes had passed. "Why are we standing out here like security guards?"
"We're doing what we were told to do," replied Sergeant Pearson.
Fleming nodded, unconvinced. He looked round at the dimly lit road; it was a narrow alley between the hospital and a redbrick factory that was falling rapidly into disrepair. On the wall opposite, in black paint that had dripped all the way to the ground, someone had sprayed two words.
"What's that mean Sarge?" asked Constable Fleming, pointing at the graffiti.
"Shut up Dave," replied his partner, giving the words a cursory glance. "No more questions, all right?"
The young man was going to make a fine copper, Pearson had no doubt about that, but his enthusiasm, and his relentless inquisitiveness, had a tendency to give the Sergeant a headache. The uncomfortable truth was that Pearson didn't know what was going on, or why they were guarding the hospital door, or what the graffiti meant. But he was not going to admit that to Fleming, who had been on the force for less than six months. He stamped his feet again, and as he did so, he heard the rumble of an engine approaching in the distance.
Thirty seconds later a black van pulled to a halt in front of the two policemen.
The windows of the vehicle were as dark as the panels of its body, and it sat low to the ground on heavy-duty run-flat tires. The noise of its engine was incredibly loud, a deep roar that Pearson and Fleming felt through their boots. For almost thirty seconds, nothing happened; the van stood motionless before them, squat and strangely threatening under the fluorescent light emanating from the hospital's side entrance behind them. Then, with a loud hiss, the vehicle's rear door slid silently open, and three figures emerged.
Fleming stared at them as they approached, his eyes wide. Pearson, who had seen things over the course of his career that the younger man would not have believed, was more adept at hiding his emotions than his partner, and managed to keep his confusion, and rising unease, from his face.
The three figures that stopped in front of them were dressed head to toe in black; their boots, their gloves, their uniforms, belts and military-style webbing. All black. The only splash of colour was the bright purple of the flat visors that covered their faces, visors attached to sleek black helmets that looked like nothing the policemen had seen before. There was not a millimetre of exposed skin to be seen; the newcomers could easily have been robots, such was the anonymity of their appearance. On their belts, two black guns hung in holsters alongside a long cylinder with a handle and a trigger on one side. It was obviously a weapon, but it was not one that either of the policemen recognised.
The tallest of the figures stopped in front of Sergeant Pearson, the shiny material of its visor inches away from his face. When the figure spoke, the voice was male, but it had a flat, digital quality that Pearson knew from his time on the Met with SO15 meant the person behind the visor was speaking through several levels of filter, to avoid the possibility of voiceprint identification.
"Have you signed the Official Secrets Act?" the black figure asked, turning its visor clad face sharply between the two policemen, who nodded, too intimidated to speak. "Good. Then you never saw us, and this never happened."
"On whose authority?" managed Pearson, his voice shaking heavily.
"The Chief of the General Staff," replied the figure, then leant forward until its visor was a millimetre from the Sergeant's nose. "And mine. Understood?"
Pearson nodded again, and the figure drew back. Then it stepped past him and strode into the hospital. The other two dark shapes followed.
"The blood bank is-" began Constable Fleming.
"We know the way," said the third of the figures in a digitally altered female voice.
Then they were gone.
The two policemen looked at one another. Sergeant Pearson was visibly shaking, and Constable Fleming reached a hand towards his partner's shoulder. The older man waved it away, but he didn't look annoyed; he looked old, and frightened.
"Who were they Sarge?" asked Fleming, his voice unsteady.
"I don't know, Dave," replied Pearson. "And I don't want to know."
The three black-clad figures strode through the bright corridors of the hospital.
The tall one, the one who had spoken to Sergeant Pearson, led the way. Behind, shorter and slimmer than the leader, came the second of the trio, who appeared to glide across the linoleum floor. The third, shorter again, brought up the rear, its purple visor sweeping slowly left and right for any sign of trouble, or witnesses to their presence. As they passed the double doors that led to the hospital's operating theatre, the tall figure at the front motioned for them to stop, and pulled a radio from his belt. He keyed a series of numbers and letters, then activated the handset's wireless connection to his helmet's comms network. After a pause of several seconds, he spoke.
"Operational Squad G-17 in position. Alpha reporting in."
"Beta reporting in," the second figure said, in a metallic female voice.
"Gamma reporting in," said the final squad member.
Alpha listened as a voice spoke on the other end of the line, and then replaced the radio on his belt.
"Let's go," he said, and the squad moved on into the hospital. After only a matter of seconds, Gamma spoke.
"So who made the 999 call?"
"The nurse at reception," answered Alpha. "One of the night porters saw a man leading a young girl into the blood bank, said the man had red eyes. He told the nurse he thought it was probably a junkie."
Beta laughed. "He's probably right. But not the kind he's thinking."
The three shadowy shapes pushed open a door marked RESTRICTED, and moved on.
"Fifth call in three nights," said Gamma. "Is Seward punishing us for something?"
"It's not just us," answered Alpha. "It's everyone. Every squad is flat out."
"I know," replied Beta. "And we know why, don't we? It's because of…"
"Don't,' said Gamma, quickly. "Don't talk about him. Not now, OK?"
A small noise emerged from behind Beta's helmet, a noise that could easily have been a laugh, but she let the subject drop.
"You were pretty hard on the Police," said Gamma. "The old Sergeant looked terrified."
"Good," replied Alpha. "The more he pretends that tonight never happened, the safer he'll be. Now, no more talk."
They had reached the hospital's blood bank, the door of which was standing open.
Alpha stepped slowly into the dark room, and flicked the light switch on the wall.
He pulled a torch from his belt, and shone it up at the light fitting. The bulb was smashed, leaving a ring of jagged glass surrounding the filament. A slow sweep of the torch revealed carnage; the metal shelves of the blood bank had been ransacked. Blood and shattered plastic dotted the surfaces, and pooled and piled on the floor.
"Don't come any closer."
The voice came from the corner of the room, and Alpha instantly swung his torch towards it. Two more shafts of white light joined its beam, as Beta and Gamma stepped into the room and followed their squad leader's example.
The beams illuminated the trembling figure of a middle-aged man, crouching in the corner of the room. At his feet lay a sports bag full of plastic sachets of blood. In his arms was a girl, no more than six years old, with an expression of pure terror on her face. The man had a razor sharp fingernail to her throat, and was looking at the three black figures with an expression of desperate panic. Alpha reached up, turned a dial on the side of his helmet, and watched his view of the room change. The helmet contained a cryocooled infrared detector, which showed the heat variance of every object within the visor's field of vision. The cold walls and floor of the blood bank were a wash of pale greens and blues, while the little girl was darker, studded with patches of yellow and orange. The man bloomed bright red and purple like a roman candle, distorting Alpha's vision.
"I'll kill her if you come any closer," the man said, shifting nervously against the wall. He tightened his grip on the girl's throat, and she moaned.
Alpha twisted the visor's setting back to normal.
"Stay calm," he said, evenly. "Just let the girl go, and we can talk."
"There's nothing to talk about!" yelled the man, and jerked the girl of her feet. She cried out, her eyes wide with terror, and Alpha took a half step forward.
"Let the girl go," he repeated.
"This isn't right," said Beta, in a low voice.
Alpha flicked his head towards her.
"Don't make a move without my go," he warned.
Beta snorted with laughter. "Please," she said, then pulled a short black tube from her waist, pointed it into the corner of the room, and pressed a button.
A thick beam of ultraviolet light burst across the blood bank. It hit the man's arm and the girl's face dead on, and both instantly erupted into flames. Screams and the nauseating smell of burning skin filled the air, as Gamma gasped behind her visor.
The little girl wrenched herself free of the arm that had been holding her, beating furiously at her face until the flames were extinguished. She dropped to her knees, tore open one of the plastic pouches of blood, then drank hungrily, slurping the crimson liquid into her mouth. The man watched her, a helpless look on his face, then suddenly seemed to notice that his arm was burning. He began to leap around the corner of the room, beating at the limb with his good hand. When the flames were out, he pulled a blood bag from one of the shelves, and devoured its contents. As squad G-17 watched, the girl's face and the man's arm began to heal before their eyes, the muscle and tissue re-growing, the skin turning pink and knitting back together. When the injuries were healed, so completely that there was no evidence that they had been there at all, a process that took only a matter of seconds, the girl looked up at the man, and wailed.
"Daddy!" she cried, her mouth a perfect circle of disappointment. "You said this would work! You promised!"
The man looked down at her with an expression of great sadness.
"I'm sorry love," he replied. "I thought it would." He looked over at the three dark figures, which hadn't moved. "How did you know she was turned? The poor thing sat in a bath of ice for an hour so she wouldn't look hot to those helmets of yours. Her teeth only just stopped chattering."
Beta reached up and lifted her helmet from her head. The face beneath it was a teenage girl's: beautiful, pale and narrow, framed by dark hair that brushed her neck. She wore a wide smile, and her eyes glowed red under the bright lights of the blood bank.
"I can smell her," Larissa Kinley replied.
The little girl hissed, her eyes flooding the same red as Larissa's.
"So it's true," said her father. "Department 19 has a pet traitor. How can you hunt your own people? Don't you have any shame?"
Larissa took half a step towards him, her smile fading.
"You are not my people," she said, in a voice like ice. Alpha gently laid a hand on her arm, and she stepped back, without taking her eyes from the man in the corner of the room.
Gamma removed her helmet, and shook her head. Short blonde hair flew back and forth above a pretty, heart-shaped face, from which blue eyes stared out above a mouth that was set into a firm line.
"Was it you two who hit Lincoln General last month?" asked Kate Randall.
The man nodded, his eyes still nervously fixed on Larissa.
"And Nottingham Trent the month before that?"
He shook his head.
"Are you lying to me?" Kate asked.
"Why would I lie?" the man replied. He appeared to be on the verge of tears. "You're going to stake us both anyway, so what would be the point?"
"That's right," said Larissa, a wicked smile on her face.
The little girl began to cry. The man placed his hands on her shoulders and whispered soothingly to her.
Alpha looked over at Larissa, who rolled her eyes. Then he reached up, and removed his helmet.
The boy beneath it was no more than sixteen or seventeen, but his face looked older, as though he had seen, and most likely done, things that had taken their toll. A jagged patch of pink scar tissue peeped above the collar of his uniform and climbed across the right side of his neck, stopping before it reached his jaw. His face was handsome, and possessed of a stillness more befitting an older man. His blue eyes were piercing, but he trained them tenderly on Larissa.
"Nobody is staking anyone tonight," said Jamie Carpenter. "You know the new SOP. Pass me two restrainers, Kate. Lazarus can have these two. I don't think they're dangerous."
The man began to cry along with his daughter.
"We were hungry," he said. "I'm sorry. My name is Patrick Connors, and this is my daughter, Maggie. We were just so hungry. We didn't mean to cause any trouble."
"It's all right," Jamie replied, taking the two restrainers from Kate's hands and tossing them to the man and his daughter. "Put these on, under your armpits. Pull them tight."
The restrainers were thick belts that looped over the shoulders and crossed in the middle; where they met was an explosive charge that sat over the heart of the person wearing it. Patrick and Maggie shrugged the belts over their shoulders, and tightened them as they had been told. When they were securely in place, Jamie pulled a black tube from his belt with a small dial on one side and a red trigger on the other; he twisted the dial two notches clockwise, and red lights on the explosive charges flickered into life.
Jamie looked at his squad.
"Larissa, you're going to lead us out of here," he said. "Sir, you're going to follow her, then Kate, then you little one, and I'll go last. We walk straight out the way we came, we don't stop, and we don't talk to anyone. Oh – and normal eyes please."
He grinned as Larissa's and Maggie's eyes reverted to their usual colours. Larissa led them out of the blood bank, and strode along the corridor towards the exit, and the waiting van. The rest of squad G-17 and their prisoners followed in the order that Jamie had instructed, and less than a minute later they marched past Sergeant Pearson and Constable Fleming, who averted their eyes as they passed, and slid the van's rear door shut behind them.
The inside of the vehicle was silver metal and black plastic; four seats ran along each side of the wide space, between which were fixed a series of moulded stands, with half a dozen unusual spaces in them. A wide LCD screen lay flush against the ceiling, and a series of slots in the floor lay before each seat. Jamie told the man and his daughter to take the two seats closest to the front and strap themselves in. They did so silently; when they were in position Kate pressed a button set into the wall. A barrier of ultraviolet light appeared from a wide bulb in the floor, cutting them off from the three black-clad teenagers, and both Patrick and Maggie cried out.
"Don't worry," said Jamie. "You're perfectly safe."
He began to unclip the weapons and devices from his belt, and slide them into the slots on the stand beside one of the seats. The brand new T-21 pneumatic launcher, the Glock 18, the Heckler & Koch MP5, the torch, and the short beam gun that Larissa had used inside the blood bank; all were placed into purpose-built compartments and clicked into place. The detonator he kept in his hand, resting it on his knee as he took his seat and announced that they were ready to go. Instantly, the powerful engine of the vehicle, which was in reality less a van and more a combination of a mobile command centre and an armoured personnel carrier, surged into life, and sped them away from the hospital, leaving Sergeant Pearson and Constable Fleming shivering on the pavement.
"What do we do–"
"Nothing," interrupted Pearson, before his partner had a chance to finish his question. "We do nothing, and we say nothing, because nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. Clear?"
Fleming looked at the older man for along moment, taking in the pale colour of his face, the lines of worry around his eyes, and the firm set of his jaw.
"Crystal, sir," he replied. "Let's go home."
An hour later, the black van sped through deepening forest, heading towards a place that didn't exist. Its official designation was Classified Military Installation 303-F, but it had long been referred to by the men and women who knew of its existence by a simpler, shorter name.
"Welcome to the Loop," said Jamie, as the van drew to a halt. Patrick Connors and his daughter regarded him with polite incomprehension, and said nothing.
Outside the van there was came a low rumble, a metallic sound like a gate being rolled back. Then they were moving again, creeping slowly forward.
"Place your vehicle in neutral."
The voice was artificial, and it appeared to be coming from all sides at once. The driver of the van, an invisible figure to the men and women in the rear of the vehicle, did as he was ordered. A conveyor belt whirred into life beneath the van, and moved it forward, until the artificial voice spoke again.
"Please state the names and designations of all passengers."
"Carpenter, Jamie. NS303, 67-J."
"Kinley, Larissa. NS303, 77-J."
"Randall, Kate. NS303, 78-J."
There was a long pause.
"Supernatural life forms have been detected on board this vehicle," said the voice. "Please state clearance code."
"Lazarus 914-73," said Jamie, quickly.
A second, longer pause.
"Clearance granted," announced the artificial voice. "Proceed."
The van began to roll forward again, picking up speed. Less than two minutes later it stopped, and Jamie stood up from his seat and slid the rear door open. Kate pressed a button in the wall and the ultraviolet barrier imprisoning Patrick and Maggie disappeared.
"This way," said Jamie, motioning towards the open door. The man led his daughter slowly down the steps, into a world he had heard rumours about, but could never have possibly imagined.
To the back of the van, an enormous semi-circular hangar stood open to the night sky. The huge space was mostly empty; a line of black SUVs and vans stood parked along one wall, and a small number of black-clad figures moved across the tarmac floor. Standing before them, patient looks on their faces, were a man in the same black uniform that Jamie and his squad were wearing, and a young Asian man in a white lab coat. Patrick looked around, and gasped. He had a moment to take in the enormity, and the incredible strangeness, of what he was seeing; the vast curved fence beyond the runway, the labyrinth of red lasers, the ultraviolet no-mans-land, and the vast holographic canopy of trees that hung across the sky above his head. Then there was a hand on his lower back, and he was being ushered forward, towards the waiting men. His daughter grabbed for his hand, and he gripped it firmly, as Jamie stepped around him and handed his detonator to the man in the white coat, who thanked him, then addressed the two disoriented, frightened vampires.
"Mr Connors," he said, his voice low and gentle. "Miss Connors. My name is Dr. Yen. Please will you follow me?"
Patrick glanced at Jamie, fear blooming on his face.
"It's OK," said Jamie. "You'll be safe with him."
Patrick glanced down at Maggie, and found her looking back up at him with a determined expression on her face. She nodded, almost imperceptibly.
"We will," he replied, as steadily as he was able. "We'll follow you."
The doctor nodded, then turned and walked briskly across the hangar. After a moment's pause, the man and his daughter followed him across the cavernous room, and through a wide set of double doors.
Jamie watched them go, then smiled at Larissa and Kate. Behind them, an Operator from the Security Division climbed into the van and began unloading their equipment from the moulded stands. It would be checked, cleaned and returned to their quarters within an hour, as it always was. Jamie nodded to the Operator, before turning to the duty officer who had been waiting to greet them.
"Cold out here tonight," he said, watching his breath cloud in front of his face.
"Yes sir. Bloody cold, sir."
"How's my mother?"
"She's fine, sir," replied the young Operator. "Asking for you."
Jamie nodded, and started to walk into the hangar. He was suddenly exhausted, and his small quarters on Level B were calling to him.
"Admiral Seward requested a debrief, sir," called the Operator, before he had got more than a couple of steps. He sounded apologetic, and Jamie sighed.
Jamie swore. "Tell him I'll be there in ten minutes," he said, then marched towards one of the doors at the rear of the hangar, Larissa and Kate following closely behind him.
The three members of Squad G-17 slumped against the walls of the lift as it descended into the lower levels of the Loop.
On level B, Jamie said goodnight to the two girls, and almost ran to the shower block marked MEN that stood halfway down the corridor. He stood in the shower for a long time, his head under the searing water, trying to prevent the aches and pains that were the accumulation of active service as a Department 19 Operator from returning with a vengeance, as they usually did once the adrenaline of a mission had worn off.
Eventually, with great reluctance, he twisted the shower off, and dressed in a T-shirt and combat trousers. He could almost feel his narrow bunk beneath him, could perfectly visualise the moment when his head would touch the pillow and his eyes would close. He picked up his uniform, opened the door to the corridor, and stopped. Larissa was standing in the doorway, her eyes red, her hair wet, her body wrapped in a green towel, a wicked smile on her face.
"Where's Kate?" asked Jamie.
"Gone to her quarters," replied Larissa. "She said to tell you she'll see you in the morning."
He opened his mouth to reply, but Larissa closed it with her own, her lips on his, and Jamie discovered that he wasn't nearly as tired as he had thought.
One hour later
Larissa Kinley flexed a muscle that the vast majority of the population didn’t possess, and felt her fangs slid silently down from her gums, fitting perfectly over her incisors, the white points emerging below her upper lip. She ran her tongue across the tips of her fangs, pressing until the slightest increase in pressure would have broken the skin, her eyes never leaving her reflection in the mirror in her quarters.
She hated her fangs with every fibre of her being.
They disgusted her, filled her with a revulsion she could not fully articulate to anyone, not even Jamie. She knew he would listen to her, sympathise with her, and at least try to say all the right things. But the simple fact was that he didn’t know what it felt like to be a vampire, and how it felt was impossible to explain.
She would have torn the fangs from her mouth with a pair of pliers if she didn’t know full well that they would re-grow the next time she fed; she would have smashed them out with the butt of her Glock pistol, filed them down to nothing with sandpaper, or simply pulled them out with her bare hands, if she had believed that anything would have rid her of them.
But she knew nothing would. Her fangs were part of her, and there was nothing she could do about them.
I’m stuck with them. I’m going to be looking at them forever.
Anger trickled through Larissa’s body, and her eyes began to turn red. She leant in close to the mirror, and watched as crimson spilt slowly in from the corners, obscuring the natural pale green. The dark red swirled and pulsed, until it filled her eyes to their edges. The black holes of her pupils expanded until she thought she would fall into them, and she took a step backwards, away from herself. A low snarl burst from her throat, and she reared back, her muscles vibrating with fury. Larissa swung her fist into the mirror, faster than the human eye could have followed, and the polished glass exploded, sending razor-sharp slivers flying through the air. Two shards dug into the pale skin of her neck; she barely noticed them until blood began to flow down her neck, and the scent filled her nostrils. She withdrew her trembling hand from the remains of the mirror, and stared at the blood pouring out of the holes in her knuckles. She pulled the glass out of her neck, savouring the pain, and wiped the blood away. Then, with guilt and sorrow in her heart, Larissa shoved her hand into her mouth, and hungrily sucked away the running blood, her head swimming with primal pleasure and self-loathing.
The cuts healed almost immediately, and she let the hand fall to her side. Staring into the mirror, she waited until the crimson in her eyes began to recede, then let the towel she was wearing fall to the floor. Her body had been changed by the endless hours of training since she had instantly accepted Major Paul Turner’s offer for her to join Department 19, grown leaner and more toned. But the thick bands of muscle that had emerged on the bodies of Kate and Jamie were nowhere to be seen; the vast majority of her strength and speed and stamina now came from somewhere else.
Larissa walked across her small quarters to the locker at the end of her bed, pulled a vest and a pair of shorts out of the drawers, dressed quickly, and stepped easily into the air. She folded her legs beneath her and floated, six feet above the floor, in outright defiance of the laws of nature; there, she closed her eyes, and focused on remaining completely still.
Her powers were developing with a speed that frightened her.
The acceleration of her abilities was a result, partly, of simple aging – but more of the fact that she was using them every day. She could now stay in the air almost indefinitely, and fly huge distances without tiring. The truth was, she didn’t even know how far; it had been a long time since she had attempted a flight that had turned out to be beyond her. And she was strong now too; so strong that the possibility of accidentally hurting someone she cared about was never far from her mind. She opened her eyes, slowly, and looked at the series of dents in the wall beside her door. They were the results of arguments with Jamie, of missions that had gone wrong, of petty fights with Kate, and of the days when simply being herself was too much for her.
All the punches had been pulled. The only time she had lashed out at the wall with all her strength she had smashed a hole clean through the thick concrete, setting off an alarm that woke everyone in the Loop. The following morning, she had been forced to explain herself to Admiral Seward, who had gently informed her that the combination of teenage petulance and superhuman strength was a dangerous one.
Larissa closed her eyes again, and let her mind wander. As it so often did, it made its way back to the months that had followed her turning at the hands of Grey, the oldest British vampire, a man who had committed himself publicly to peace while he fed on teenage girls in private. She had eventually confronted him in Valhalla, the vampire commune he had founded, and from which he had been expelled for what he had done to her, but his banishment had brought her little peace; it had made nothing better.
The almost two years she had spent with Alexandru Rusmanov were her deepest secret, the one thing she refused to discuss with anyone, even Jamie. He had asked her about it for the first time during the bedlam that followed the attack on Lindisfarne, when the two of them were tentatively getting to know each other, were, in essence, meeting each properly for the first time. The persona she had presented to him during her time as a prisoner of Department 19 had not been far removed from her real self; she had played up certain aspects of her character and played down others as she fought desperately for the chance to survive the madness that was taking place around her. But it was still a persona, an act, one she dropped as soon as Marie Carpenter was rescued and she came to realise that her life was no longer in danger. Jamie had phrased his question innocuously, but there had been a tightness to his voice, a sliver of excitement, that let Larissa know how much he wanted to hear about her past.
She wanted to tell him, too.
The attraction between them was tangible, and she knew with absolute certainty that their time spent as merely friends was going to be extremely brief. But more than that, she trusted him; the thought of having someone who she could tell her story to, who would not judge her for the things she had done, would not think less of her or turn their back on her, someone who might help her carry the weight that hung so heavily around her neck, was the one thing she wanted more than anything else in the world.
And for that reason, she told him not to ask her about it again. She could not face the possibility of being wrong about him, of being let down and disappointed again. Instead, she clung to the hope that he would ignore her instruction, and ask her again one day; when he did, she would be ready to tell him.
But she wasn’t. Not the second time he asked her, or the third, or the fourth, and eventually he got the message and stopped persevering. Each time, she had tried to tell him, tried to will herself to open this last door to him, and to hell with what lay behind it. But she couldn’t. Her panic at the thought of driving him away before they had even had the chance to become something more than friends had been replaced by an overwhelming terror at the thought of losing him now that they had. She understood now that the chance had passed, that she should have told him at the beginning, and that she was now trapped. The memories of those two terrible years ate away at her, poisoning her sleep and her dreams, and she had rejected the chance to let someone help her, someone who wanted so badly to do so.
He saw me when his dad was killed, she thought, as she floated in the cool air of her quarters. And he knows I was sent by Alexandru to kill him the night his mother was kidnapped. He knows both those things and he’s still with me. Why can’t I tell him the rest?
But she knew the answer to her own question.
Because it’s worse. Oh God, it’s so much worse. Because I don’t know if he or Kate could ever look at me the same way again. And because they’re all I’ve got.
In the quiet of her quarters, her hair almost brushing the ceiling as she floated, Larissa fought back the rage that suddenly spilled through her, making her muscles vibrate and her fangs burst involuntarily into her mouth. She growled, a low rumble full of imminent violence, as she tried to control herself, tried not to swoop down and add a new dent to the collection by the door.
Calm, she shouted at herself. Be calm. Without Alexandru you wouldn’t be here, would never have met Jamie, or Kate, never had the chance to make amends for what you did. Calm down you stupid girl.
She felt her fangs retract, and she slowly unclenched her fists. It was a source of constant amusement to Larissa, who possessed a jet black sense of humour, that she had come to fall for a boy she would never even have met had she not been the obedient servant of the monster that had tried to destroy his family. But there had been no way for her to know that as she flew with Alexandru and his followers towards the house that the unsuspecting Jamie Carpenter shared with his mother and the ghost of his father.
No way for her to know that her new life, her real life had been about to begin.
Kate Randall closed her laptop, sat back in her chair, and stared at the wall above the small desk in her quarters. She had showered and changed into a T-shirt and shorts, and her blonde hair was wet; she could feel water dripping down her neck and across her shoulders.
It was her turn to write Squad G-17’s post-operation report, but she found herself unable to concentrate on it. She was tired, but that was not unusual; endless interrupted sleep patterns came with the territory of being a Department 19 Operator. What was distracting her, and preventing her from focusing on the report, was something that had become an almost constant source of annoyance to Kate.
Jamie and Larissa.
Kate had known about their relationship, or whatever they called it when they were alone, since the very beginning. The two things that annoyed her, that sometimes made her so frustrated that she wanted to scream "I KNOW!’ in both their faces, were the fact that they seemed to genuinely believe she was unaware, and that they felt the need to keep it from her at all.
The former was an insult to her intelligence, and she hated being thought of as stupid almost as much as she hated being patronised. The latter was even worse; she knew, with absolute certainty, that they both believed she had a crush on Jamie.
Kate was a girl with a highly developed sense of self-awareness, and would have admitted, had anyone asked her, that there had been a tiny period of time during which she had possibly, just possibly, thought about Jamie in that way. During the madness of Lindisfarne and the days that followed it, days in which the shape and course of her life had been altered forever, when she had been faced with decisions that she would spend the rest of her days second-guessing, he had been there, by her side, helping her through it. He had rescued her on Lindisfarne, as the bodies of her friends and neighbours lay discarded on the streets she had grown up in, and saved her life, all their lives, by destroying Alexandru Rusmanov. Then, when it was over, she had seen him with Frankenstein, and with his mum, and for a few short moments she thought that she had maybe been a little bit in love with him.
But the feeling had passed, and passed quickly; partly because it was obvious to her from the moment they woke up at the Loop on the morning after Lindisfarne that he had fallen for Larissa, and that Larissa felt the same way about him, but also because in the cold light of day, away from the blood and the screams and the horror of the night before, the aura that had glowed around him as he stepped forward to face Alexandru was gone. She loved Jamie; in the months since her home had been attacked he had become one of the two closest friends she had ever had, and she would have done anything for him.
But she was not in love with him.
That was what hurt her most about the deception that he and Larissa were perpetrating; she was genuinely, unreservedly happy for them both. She had waited and waited for them to tell her, convincing herself they were looking for the right moment, until she had been forced into the bitter realisation that there wasn’t going to be a right moment. They weren’t waiting for anything; they had decided to keep her in the dark.
Well, to hell with that, she thought. Tomorrow I’ll tell them I know. No more of this.
After all, it wasn’t as if Kate had been without problems of her own to deal with in the aftermath of Lindisfarne; real problems, unlike the adolescent nonsense occupying her two supposedly best friends.
After they had arrived at the Loop, after the wonderful, heart-stopping moment when the news had been passed to her that her father was amongst the survivors who had made it to the mainland in John Tremain’s fishing boat, Kate had been escorted down to the secure dormitory on Level B and crashed into a deep, dreamless sleep. She had slept until a female Operator, in the same black uniform that Jamie and his colleagues had been wearing when they arrived on Lindisfarne, shook her awake six hours later and told her that she needed to get dressed and follow her up to the Loop’s Ops Room. She had done so without complaint, still half-asleep, rubbing her eyes as they made their way into a lift and up to level 0. The Operator had pushed open the Ops Room door, and held it wide; Kate walked through it, and looked around the large circular room.
There was only one other person in there, a strikingly handsome Latino man in his mid-forties, wearing the now-familiar all black uniform, and sitting casually on the desk at the front of the room.
"Miss Randall?" he asked. His expression was entirely neutral; there was no malice there, no threat, but no warmth either, and for a second the strangeness of the situation she had found herself in sank into her, and she felt a sharp rush of fear as she nodded.
What if they’re going to lock me up for what I saw? What if I’m never going to get out of here? What will happen to my dad?
"My name is Major Christian Gonzalez," the man said. "I’m the Interim Security Officer at this facility. Please, take a seat."
Kate did as she was told, crossing the wide room and sitting in one of the plastic chairs that were standing around a grid of long tables. She turned it so she was facing Major Gonzalez.
"Did you sleep well? Is there anything you need?" he asked.
She shook her head.
"Good," he said. "That’s good. Now Kate – do you mind me calling you Kate?"
She shook her head again, and his lips curled at the edges.
"Thank you," he said. "So, Kate. We have a problem, you and I. We need to work out what we’re going to do about it."
"What problem?" she asked, her voice low and nervous.
"That you were never supposed to see the things you’ve seen. The creatures that attacked your home last night, the men who rescued you; as far as the general public is concerned, none of them exist. Neither does the building you’re standing in now. And that’s the way we need it to stay."
Fear pulsed up Kate’s spine.
They are going to lock me up. I’m never going to be allowed to go home.
Major Gonzalez saw the look on the teenage girl’s face and smiled.
"We’re not going to hurt you, Kate," he said, his voice kind. "We’re the good guys. But we do need to protect the security of what we do, and that means you have a decision to make. A big one."
"What do you mean?" Kate managed. "What decision?"
Major Gonzalez picked a small sheaf of paper from the desk he was sitting on, and showed it to Kate.
"This is the preliminary report into the events of last night," he said. "It is based on statements from eyewitnesses, including senior members of this organisation. It describes the circumstances leading to the destruction of one of the most powerful vampires in the world at the hands of a teenage boy with nothing more than the most basic training, and the actions of the men and women that helped him. It mentions you, several times. It says that you exhibited remarkable bravery and resolve in leading Mr Carpenter and his colleagues to the monastery where Alexandru Rusmanov had made his base, and that you continued to demonstrate those qualities when confronted with a hall full of hungry vampires, led by one of the most evil creatures ever to walk the earth. It claims you destroyed one of the vampires yourself. Is that true?"
The memory of the previous night burst unbidden into Kate’s mind. She remembered the screams and the crunch of weapons as the small group of men and the vampire girl fought valiantly against monsters that outnumbered them five to one, remembered the spray of blood and the tearing of flesh and bone, remembered with shuddering revulsion the vampire who had held her, and the sensation of his sharpened fingernail tracing a line across her neck. Then she remembered the primal roar that had echoed through her head as she sank her teeth into his arm and tore at it like a mad dog, the warmth of his blood coating her from head to toe after she sank a metal stake into his heart, and the subsequent sense of overpowering elation that had shaken her to her core.
"That’s true," she said, quietly. "I destroyed one of them."
Christian Gonzalez smiled at her again, and this time the smile was wide, and dizzyingly beautiful. She felt his approval wash over her, and thought she might blush.
"Well done," he said. "Very well done, indeed. That you survived as long as you did on an island overrun by vampires, that you were then able to play the part you did in their defeat, is why you now have a decision to make. The first option is as follows: you can return home, with a cover story explaining your whereabouts for the last twenty-four hours, and never tell anyone about the things you saw. You’ll have to sign the Official Secrets Act, you’ll be monitored to make sure you comply with it, and if you don’t, you will be discredited so that no one believes you, to the extent that the likely result will be a period of evaluation in a secure psychiatric hospital. But you’ll be able to resume your life as it was before the events of last night, and you’ll be reunited with your father."
Tears welled in the corners of Kate’s eyes as she thought about her father, her brilliant, loyal dad, who must be going through hell with his daughter missing and his home recovering from a massacre.
"I should be clear," continued Major Gonzalez. "This is an offer that is made extremely rarely. Under normal circumstances, once a civilian is exposed to the existence of the supernatural, as you were last night, continuing a normal life ceases to be an option. There are obvious risks in allowing that information to be taken out into the world, and those risks are normally considered sufficient to see the civilian in question placed in classified custody. I’m not trying to scare you, or threaten you, I promise. I’m merely letting you know how this usually works."
Kate felt both scared and threatened, but she tried not to let it show.
"What’s the second option?" she asked, her voice packed with as much bravery as she could muster.
The smile returned to Christian Gonzalez’s face.
"The other option is that you stay here and help us save the world," he said. "You become an Operator in this organisation, and you help us stop what happened to Lindisfarne from happening anywhere else."
"What’s the catch?"
"The catch is that the life you led until yesterday will be over. You will never be able to tell anyone who you are, who you work for, or what you do, and you will never be able to contact anyone from your former life. Including your father."
Kate felt faint.
The idea that she would never see her dad again was so abhorrent to her that she thought she was going to throw up at the mere thought of it. But what the handsome Major was offering her was a way out of the life that had been stretching inevitably out before her on Lindisfarne: she would inherit her father’s boat, carry on fishing the same small stretch of water for the next forty years, maybe find a local boy to marry, have a kid or two, and live and die on the island where she had been born.
Kate knew she could never have left her father alone, could never have moved to the mainland and abandoned him to an empty house full of the memories of his family. She had come to terms with her lot a long time ago, but now this man was offering her a way to change it all, to do something that mattered, something that would be exciting, and dangerous, where there were no limits to the places she might go and the people and monsters she might meet. But even for all that, there was a price that would be too high for her to pay.
"What will you tell my dad?" she asked, carefully. "I can’t let him think anything happened to me. I need him to know I’m OK."
"He’ll be told that you are the primary material witness to a major terrorist incident, and that you are being voluntarily detained for questioning. In a few months time, when all this has died down, he’ll be asked to sign the Official Secrets Act and told that you have been recruited into the Security Services. He’ll be extremely proud of you, I promise." This time Major Gonzalez grinned, and Kate blushed, despite herself.
"How long do I have to make the decision?" she asked.
"About an hour," replied the Major. She opened her mouth to protest, but he cut her off. "I’m sorry, I know this must seem very unfair. But I’m afraid there are time factors at work here that controlling the public story depend on. If you decide to go, we need to get you home while there is still confusion on Lindisfarne."
"And if I decide to stay?"
"Then we need to get started," he said.
In the end, she had only made Major Gonzalez wait for ten minutes before she told him she would take the second option. He congratulated her, before escorting her along a curving grey corridor to one of the Briefing Rooms where she was reacquainted with Jamie Carpenter and the vampire girl, Larissa Kinley. And even then, as she looked back on the most important day of her life, she had noticed the small glances and half-smiles that passed between the two of them.
Tomorrow, she thought again. I’ll tell them tomorrow.
There was a knock on the door of her quarters, and she padded softly across the cold floor to answer it, smiling as she did so, knowing there was only one person who would be visiting her at this hour. Shaun Turner was standing in the corridor outside, his face breaking into a smile as she opened the door to him. Then he was pushing her backwards, his hands on her waist, his lips on hers, and a thought flashed through her head as they sank on to her narrow bunk.
At least I’m actually good at keeping secrets. Well, from one of them, at least.
Jamie stood outside the door to Admiral Henry Seward’s quarters on Level A, pushing his hair back from his forehead and tucking his T-shirt into his combat trousers. When he was as presentable as he was likely to get, he knocked on the door.
"Come," called a muffled voice. Jamie pushed open the heavy door and stepped inside.
The Director of Department 19 was sitting behind his desk. Admiral Seward put the papers he had been working on atop the towering pile of his inbox, and regarded Jamie with a warm smile which the teenager returned.
They had become close in recent months, these two men; united in grief by the loss of Frankenstein, whom Seward missed almost as much as Jamie, and drawn together by the Director’s terrible sense of guilt over the death of Julian Carpenter. Jamie had never blamed Henry Seward for the loss of his father; for that, there was a jet-black corner in the darkest, angriest depths of his soul set aside especially for the traitor Thomas Morris, who had died before Jamie got the chance to make him pay for what he had done. But the Admiral’s guilt was real, even if it was misplaced, and it had allowed Jamie the chance to get to know the man his father had really been. They had spent many evenings in this room, the Director telling tales of Julian Carpenter, Jamie drinking them in hungrily, then passing them on to his mother, often after heavy editing for violence. It had made the Carpenters feel like a family again, had rebuilt the bonds between that had been eroded in the years after Julian had died, when neither mother nor son had known how to fill the void that had been left in the middle of their lives.
Now look at us, though Jamie, and stifled a grin. I hunt and destroy vampires for a living, she IS a vampire and lives in a cell hundreds of feet below the earth, yet we’ve never got on better.
"Something funny, Jamie?" asked Seward.
He had clearly not stifled the grin as well as he thought, and drew himself up to attention.
"No, sir," he replied.
Seward smiled at him.
"At ease," he said. Jamie relaxed into an easy stance, his hands loosely together behind his back. "Give me your report."
"Nothing notable, sir. Father and daughter vamps robbing a blood bank."
"Were you able to capture them?"
"Yes sir. I handed them over to Dr Yen, sir."
The Director nodded. "Well done. Lazarus needs all the warm vamps it can get its hands on."
"So I hear, sir."
"Yes sir. On the wall outside the hospital. The same two words."
Admiral Seward swore, scribbling a quick note on a piece of paper.
"Sir," Jamie continued. "Why does the Lazarus Project need so many captive vamps? What are they doing down there?"
The Director put down the pen he had been writing his note with, and looked at the young Operator. "The Lazarus Project is classified, Jamie," he replied. "You understand what classified means, don’t you?"
"Let me remind you, just in case you’ve forgotten. It means that everyone who needs to know what the Lazarus Project is doing already knows what the Lazarus Project is doing. Is that clear, Operator?"
"It is, sir."
"Good. There’s a Zero Hour Task Force briefing scheduled for 1100 tomorrow. Mandatory attendance."
"New information, sir?" asked Jamie, hopefully.
Admiral Seward shook his head. "Just routine, Jamie. Dismissed."
Jamie nodded, and left the Director’s study. As he walked towards the elevator that would finally, mercifully, deliver him to his bed, his mind drifted back to the speech Admiral Seward had given a month earlier, that had brought to light the existence of the Lazarus Project, that had birthed the Zero Hour Task Force, that had altered how every Operator in the Department went about their job.
The speech that had changed everything.
Department 19: The Rising might not be unleashed in full until 29th March, but as an exclusive to you, the Facebook fans, we’re granting access to the first three chapters of the gruesome sequel over the next three months.
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