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The Armageddon Shadow

Lee Pletzers


Publication License Notes This Book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This Book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. All Rights Reserved No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, except in the case of brief quotations in critical reviews, without permission of the Author. This book is a work of fiction. The characters, names, events and places are fictitious and products of the authors imagination. Any similarities to actual persons -living or dead, places or events, are entirely coincidental and should be treated as such. The Armageddon Shadow Copyright © Lee Pletzers 2012 Edited by Serena Tatti of http://story-editor.com/ any other mistakes are my own. Published by Triskaideka Books New Zealand The web home of Lee Pletzers: http://kobefiction.we.bs Cover Art Copyright © Lee Pletzers 2012 Image © 123rf.com


Dedication For my boys Lewis and Connor and the woman always at my side, Ami. And to my friends and fans thank you for all your support throughout the years. It is truly appreciated.


Other titles by Lee Pletzers Novels: Resurrection Child -- Dark Continents -- 2012 Rage -- Triskaideka Books (paperback / Kindle / Smashwords) -2012 The Armageddon Shadow -- Panic Press 2011 (new version 2012 from Triskaideka Books) in darkness we play Triskaideka Books 2010 The Game -- (Kindle / Paperback / Hardcover) Triskaideka Books June 2010 The Last Church -- BBS Press September 2009 -- OUT OF PRINT Bloodline -- Writers Press LTD (E-Versions only: PDF/ Epub / mobi / kindle / ipad / palm / sony reader) Self Published / Print on Demand Titles under the name Richard Lee: Terror Tales (Out of Print.) Re-Entry of Evil. (out of print). Copies available at Shocklines. Blood of the Wolf. Published 2001 (out of print). Articles: Think Visually -- issue 19 House of Horror When the publisher crashes -- e-book world magazine UK (2012) Please visit http://kobefiction.we.bs/ for more information.


Book One Chapter 1 1 Friday 0800. The sound was enormous, the crash unmistakable; shards of wood flew from the shattered front door. He turned to see suits charging the room, tasers drawn. They moved fast. A dog blocked the entrance; lips curled back, saliva dripped from pointed teeth. Their voices were loud, threatening. Shouting at him to get down, on the floor: Now! Quick! Down! Down! Down! Rage bubbled inside his veins; the man rushed for the window. Someone grabbed him around the neck from behind and drove him to the floor. Landing hard on the carpet, he felt his cheeks ignite with rug-burn. He fought against gripping hands holding him firmly, fighting for a space to maneuver, and madly searching for an opportunity to break free. His arms and legs went wild, lashing out at anyone close. His shin struck the coffee table, knocked magazines to the floor. A cup of hot coffee skidded to the table’s edge, but did not tip off.

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They knew not to shoot the body. They had learned. The men kept his back pressed to the floor. One pointed a taser at him. The man punched and kicked the best he could, until the cold steel of a gun pushed hard against his temple. The old man laughed, it was weak and croaky but the message was clear. In response a knee was forced against his neck, forcing his head to the carpet. The old man’s mouth gaped open. A shadow rose from the parted, chapped lips, black and without form like an elongated blob. A sponge heavy with water filled his mouth. Water. Its one true enemy. Unable to pass this one hindrance, the entity searched for another way out and rushed to the eyes in hope of escape. Spying release, the Entity rushed forward. A wet cloth slapped across the eyes, successfully sealing that passage. It felt like a caged animal, desperate for a way out. The nose! Flipping around, it shot downwards and came to an instant halt, realizing the body was not breathing. It was suffocating. There was no way out if the body drowned. The bastards would have succeeded in a powerful trap. And that was unacceptable. The man’s brain bubbled. Blood vessels ruptured. Blood dribbled from the ears. It pushed through the blood, its denseness enabling the entity to grip and move. “Jesus,” a man screamed. “Give me the cup. Quick!” That voice. It knew that voice. Agent Baxter. The son of a bitch always found him, no matter where he was or in what

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form he took. An escape route showed itself. Light shone brightly. They had made a mistake. Yes, almost free. The exit only seconds away. Hot coffee rushed through the entry, slamming a door on the final exit route. Fury ripped through the old man’s brain sending the body into violent spasms, jerking and twisting, almost impossible to hold down.

Agent Tom Baxter forced his knee against the man’s neck, leaning down hard, holding him in place. Agents John Dernaham and Shirley Wong fought to keep down the legs. Agent Susan Temple dropped to her knees, fumbling a hypodermic needle from a plastic bag. Baxter shot her a glance; his eyes screamed at her to hurry. She nodded, clamped the plastic protective cover in her mouth and slammed the needle into the man’s back and pushed down the plunger. Muscle relaxant coursed through the lungs to the heart. The man continued to squirm but the neck lock did a better job than the drugs. They held him firm until the spasms stopped. Baxter took a final look around the living room and adjusted his black suit jacket. He nodded to the group as if answering a silent question. “Get him into the van,” Baxter ordered, sliding his .38 Special into the shoulder holster. A German shepherd sat at the entrance. His eyes were locked on the old man downed by the agents. John picked up its leash. “You did a good job, boy.” He patted the large bulky

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head. The dog looked past him. It watched as Susan stepped back and allowed two agents to lift the man off the floor. As they approached, it stood up and moved to the side. John pulled gently on the leash. “This way, boy.” He and Shirley followed the agents outside. No one had thought to bring a gurney. Baxter stood in the doorway, the sun warm on his face. On the curb were two vans, rear doors open. Agent Ryan Hoffman stood guard. He watched the two agents cross the small path leading to the gate. They moved quickly. The day was quiet. No birds chirped, no dogs barked; no wind rustled tree leaves. Baxter tensed. He drew the .38 Special from his shoulder holster and held it at his side. Behind him, he heard Susan cock the hammer of her .38. They both felt it like a sixth sense. Something was wrong. “Hey man, wa’cha doing?” The young man stepped through a gate two doors down. He had long black hair and blue jeans with torn knees and wore a rock band T-shirt. In his nicotine-stained fingers a hand-rolled cigarette sent small wafts of smoke twirling into the sky. Agent Hoffman stepped forward from guarding the two vans. “Hey, isn’t that old man Torrent?” The kid rushed forward. The cigarette fell from his fingers, spinning in the still afternoon. His hand reached behind him. The cigarette hit the road and bounced. He pulled a Glock from the back of his jeans. “No!” Agent Baxter watched the scene unfolded like a nightmare. The back of Agent Ryan’s head exploded splattering the

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van and road with clumps of blood-soaked hair and bone. He toppled back. The two agents carrying the body dropped it. They pulled out their weapons. Shots punched into the van’s side and more ricocheted off the road. The kid was fast. He jerked to the side of the van and used two bullets to take the men out. Baxter saw him smile as the Glock jumped in his hands. The dog bolted forward. On hind legs, it pushed the kid off balance and its jaws clamped on the gun hand forcing the kid to drop the weapon. The German shepherd increased his grip against the struggling kid, and brought him to the ground.

Sensing release, It escaped, spewing forth from the mouth. Instantly it blended with shadows thrown first by the vans, then by trees. It raced to the gutter and dropped down the first drain it found. The blackness inside was sweet. Water rushed below it. Attached to the top of the drain, it slid toward the city center.

Baxter saw the shadow make its escape and he fired three times knowing it had no effect but unable to stop. Agent Dernaham grabbed the leash on the dog, pulling it back as Agent Baxter reached the scene with Agent Temple and Agent Wong a step behind. His free hand formed a fist, and he could barely stop himself from shooting the guy. He slammed his foot into the young man’s gut as Dernaham swept the Glock under the van

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out of harm’s way. Grabbing him by the hair, Baxter lifted the kid to his feet. “You have no idea what you’ve done!” The kid smiled. “Yeah. I do.” Without warning, Baxter grabbed the kid’s face and shoved him against the van. He stepped forward quickly and drove a fist into his stomach. The kid doubled over. Baxter almost drove a knee into the kid’s face. It was so close and so easy, yet somehow, he managed to withstand the temptation. A wallet poked out from the back pocket. Baxter grabbed it and flipped it open. “Well hello, Henry Buffalo.” He squatted down and pushed Henry’s head against the van. “Do you have any idea what you just did?” “Fuck you.” Henry’s voice came out strained, almost a whisper. “No, fuck you.” Agent Baxter took a step back and pushed the barrel of his .38 Special against Henry’s temple. The kid didn’t say anything. “I’m waiting,” Baxter said. “Go to Hell.” “Been there.” Baxter squeezed the trigger. The hammer thumped an empty chamber making a loud click. Henry screamed; his bladder lost control. He grabbed his head in his arms and whimpered, sliding against the van to the ground. Stepping away from Henry, Baxter reached under the van and retrieved the Glock. He put it in the back of his suit pants. “Cuff him in the van,” he told Susan and Shirley. Agent Dernaham watched Susan and Shirley drag Henry into the back of the van. Pure hatred burned behind

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those orbs. Baxter felt the same, but he had to keep everything under control and he had to maintain control of his team. He clapped Dernaham on the shoulder. They would mourn the loss of their comrades later. First things first. Baxter needed to chat with Henry. A police cruiser screeched to a halt next to the van. It arrived without sirens. Two officers leapt out of the car, using the open door as a shield. Their guns instantly drawn. “Stop right there, fuckers!” one yelled, his voice firm and authoritative. “Show me your damn hands!” Baxter sighed and gently laid the fallen agent on the road. He held up his arms. “Gentlemen—” “Shut it! I want to see everyone’s fucking hands now!” the second officer yelled. Baxter turned to his team and nodded. They raised their hands as the officers crept from behind the shield of the cruiser’s doors and carefully approached, weapons scanning back and forth between Baxter and his crew. There was neither helicopter nor other cruisers in sight. They had to be waiting for back-up. One cop trained his barrel at Baxter and nodded at his partner. “You move and you’ll have a bullet for a friend! Understand?” “Yes,” Baxter said as the second cop holstered his weapon and forced him against the van. His legs were kicked apart. The cop started to pat him down. Found his identification in the breast pocket and pulled out a standard black identification pouch. Inside, a photo I.D card and a silver badge pressed into the soft leather.

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Holding the pouch, the cop went to his unit. Baxter watched him radio in. A moment later the cop came out and handed the pouch back. “Sorry,” he said. “Communication breakdown.” He turned to the other cop. “We gotta go.” “Actually gentlemen,” Baxter said. “We would very much appreciate it if you could call an ambulance and help us out here.” “Sure thing, sir.” Baxter passed on instructions and, two minutes later, the team headed out of the cul-de-sac with Susan behind the wheel, her foot hard on the accelerator and the two remaining agents next to her. Baxter was in the back. He wanted a word with Mr. Buffalo.

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Friday 0815

Bright light shoved spears of pain through the slithering shadow. It changed direction, found shelter and zipped under a car, only to be exposed moments later as the car pulled into traffic. The sun’s powerful rays scorched the shadow in a thousand places. The pain forced the shadow to move fast; forced it to locate a new host quickly. But it was picky. Not just anyone would do. They had to be the right breed. A boot slammed the ground as a skin-headed neo-Nazi

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wannabe strode past. It watched him walk down the street. The black jacket, black torn jeans, black boots and tattooed head meant nothing to the shadow curled up against a doorway studying the figure. The guy had a raging emotion it liked: violence. It was in abundance in the young man, but barely controlled. Hate was its driving force. The shadow turned away from him. Shooting along the gutter, It rounding a corner, keeping in the shade of a delivery truck. Sensing an ideal location, the shadow jumped the curb, flew along the pavement and stopped. The city square lay before It, near empty at this hour, only a few people went about their daily grind. Some talked on cell phones, others smoked and drank coffee. Sitting on a bench eating a bakery-store breakfast, was a young blonde lady with fair skin and sharp blue eyes. Her figure was petite; she wore standard office lady clothes, a knee length dress, white blouse and a thin light jacket. She wasn’t strong enough to be a suitable host. The shadow knew that straight away, but there was some kind of special attraction to her. She held a certain power in her and the ability to deceive was incredibly strong. It felt a violent tendency in her waiting to be exposed and explored. Laughter, loud and boisterous grabbed the attention of the shadow. On the other side of the square, a man leaned against a light post. He wore a gray suit, dark shirt and a red tie with a cartoon character on it. With his ear pressed to a cell phone, his lips turned up in a smile. He watched passing cars and trucks as if waiting for someone. The man drew his hand through his dark hair with premature gray streaks. Laughter lines scarred the skin around

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the brown eyes and dimples pumped his cheeks when he laughed. Taking things easy, the shadow moved slowly toward him. It drifted across the concrete, over an abandoned chalk drawing of baby Jesus, closer to the pole. Excitement coursed through It even making the burning pain of the sun bearable. The man was ripe. He had that ‘something’ the shadow searched for. Reaching the pole, It slithered around the man’s feet and waited for the right moment. The man laughed, lips pointed to the ears. The shadow loomed back, leaning into and through the ground. The laughter stopped but the mouth was opened in a wide smile. Shooting upwards, the shadow wrapped around the man’s face. Shock released the man’s grip and the phone dropped. Inhaling, he sucked in the shadow. The essence of the shadow slid up his nose, through his mouth and inside his ears. It traveled up the pathways to the brain and made a nest. The man’s face twitched. Spasms caused his dimples to jump; the right side of his lip rose to the nose and fell quickly back in place only to repeat the process. His eyes swelled and he pushed his palms against them. Tiny bumps lined his forehead just below the hairline. His full weight leaned against the pole. The sudden pressure inside his head was incredible; like a ton of bricks balanced on his brain. The pain softened and suddenly left. The man’s hands fell from his eyes — eyes as black as coal.

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Slowly he bent down and picked up the cell phone. Someone was still talking on the other end. He pushed the end button and turned to face the woman. Reading a fashion magazine, she had abandoned her simple breakfast. Part of a plastic bag poked out of her purse. Her long blonde stray strands of hair swayed in the gentle breeze of the early morning. The shadow knew her name: Nina Stewart. The man’s name was Christopher Ball. He closed his eyes and when he reopened them, the black was gone, replaced with the original color. He pocketed the phone, brushed his hair with his hands and approached the woman on the wooden bench. She saw him coming, closed the magazine and smiled. “Hi ya, Chris,” Nina said brightly. “Right back at ya,” he replied, then offered her a closed-lip smile. The shadow accessed memory files: They worked in the same building on the same floor and lived not far from each other. Christopher hoped one day to have the courage to ask her to dinner without the pretense of work as an excuse. Christopher Ball wanted Nina Stewart. Now, the shadow wanted Nina Stewart. He instantly liked her. A connection, weak at present but a connection nonetheless. “Who were you talking to?” Confused, he tilted his head slightly to one side. “On the phone,” she added helpfully. “I am not Christopher Ball.” He smiled. “And it is not my phone but I shall use it.” He pulled it out to show her. She looked at him sideways. “Are you alright?” “What do you mean?” he countered.

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“‘I am not Christopher Ball,’” she said trying to imitate his deep voice. Covering her failure with the sweetest smile she could muster, “So, who are you if you’re not Chris?” Nina stood up and slung her purse over her shoulder. Reaching out, he pinched her shoulder. Nina froze, she didn’t even blink. “I am Darkness,” he said and leaned forward. With his free hand, he pulled up her right eyelid and drew his tongue gently across the glassy surface. Each lash of his tongue darkened the eyeball. With it completely black, he attacked the other. Watching closely, he observed the change—the infection—take hold. Her face slackened and tiny bumps lined her forehead. “You will need a haircut. Get a new style with a fringe,” he ordered. She nodded. He released the pinch. Nina blinked and shook her head. “What happened?” Darkness shrugged. “Don’t know. You just seemed to space out there for a second.” She rubbed her forehead as the bumps sunk deep and her sharp blue eyes focused on him again. “Weird,” she said. “Anyway are you going to answer me?” I did, he thought, but said, “I’ve decided that I am Christopher Ball.” She smiled. “That’s good. I like Christopher Ball. It’s a nice name.” She stepped past him. “See you at the office.” “Don’t you have something else to do?” he asked. Nina stopped in mid step. She didn’t turn. “Oh yes, I do. And it is urgent.”

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He watched Nina walk out of the square. Cars roared past. Motorcycles zipped in and out of traffic, dodging cars and shooting up the centerline to beat the red light. A group of high school girls in uniform crossed the square, their voices were loud and the conversation idiotic. A man entered the square with a small dog on a leash. The dog growled at Darkness. Dogs. Father had set the dogs on him.

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Chapter 2 1 Friday 0830 Jerked side to side, Henry found it hard at times to keep his balance. He was handcuffed to a thick chain on each arm; the chains were crudely bolted to a partition that separated the driver’s cab from the rest of the van. The bolts looked like they weren’t secured tight. Next to them he saw a small speaker with a printed label reading: 2-way. A long metal table pushed against the right side of the van. A small fan built into the roof, provided little fresh air. At the foot of the table sat his Glock. On the other side, a bulky computer whirred with the screensaver running. He did realize that he had stepped into a heap a shit and didn’t care. Darkness had chosen him, Henry Buffalo of all people, to help and protect him. And he had done that. Never let it be said that he abandoned a friend in need. And Darkness was his friend. He knew Darkness would find him. He doubted it would take long. Until then, he would have to wait and suffer the stupid questions and threats. As far as he knew, most of the people in the street were not associated with Darkness. It made Henry feel special in a way. It was a special job with great responsibility and a touch

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of power. It gave his life even more meaning than previously. The agent stared at him hard. Nothing they did would scare him. He was ready for death. His beloved Glock was close to the agent. Desperately, he wanted to get his hands around its lovely cold grip. Feel the power he controlled. The agent smiled. It was more of a smirk than a smile and Henry returned it happily. “Do you truly know what you have done?” Henry stayed quiet and kept his returning smirk in place. He leaned heavily against the chains until his shoulders were pulled right back. “I think the doctor would love to see you.” The agent picked up the Glock. “Me? I’d rather just shoot you. More easier and fun.” He watched Henry closely and took a step forward. “You killed three agents. Worse than that, you killed my friends.” “So? You killed two cops.” The agent smiled. “Yep, with your gun.” Henry’s face went slack. “You didn’t register it, did you?” The agent laughed out loud. “That’s a first.” “Fuck you.” “Wrong. You’re the one who’s fucked. Wait till you meet the doctor.” It took Henry a few moments to gather a reply. “You don’t scare me,” he said in a tough-man voice. “Did once.” The agent pointed to the dark stain on the crotch of his pants. Henry changed position. His shoulders were starting to

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hurt. He leaned against the partition behind him. “My friend will come and get me.” The agent cocked his head to the side. “It almost sounds as if you truly believe that.” The agent’s unwavering gaze was hard for Henry to hold, so he looked down at his feet. “He’ll come.” Someone banged on the partition from the cab side. The agent banged back. “Home.” His smile was cold. The van bumped along what could have been an unpaved driveway. Henry wished there were windows so he could see where he was. Run, make a break for it, his brain screamed. And how the fuck was he going to do that? He had no idea of the layout and there were bound to be security guards all over the place and this driveway seemed to take forever to stop. The bumpy ride knocked him around a bit. The chains rattled, loosened and snapped taut, loosened again. The handcuffs cut into his wrists. The van turned sharply. Almost losing his footing, Henry cursed and gripped the thick chains with both his hands. The agent grabbed hold of something himself and he watched the Glock slide along the table and clatter to the floor. As quickly as the turn had started, they were once again heading straight. A moment later the van stopped. “We’re here,” the agent said, removing a small set of keys from his pants pocket. With his free hand he removed his .38. “Against the wall,” he ordered.

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Henry leaned back against it. “Sideways, dickhead.” He did as commanded. The agent pushed hard against his shoulder. The rear door of the van opened. A hand pushed his head against the metal partition. He heard the key unsnap the first handcuff and Henry’s arm fell to his side. Pinned against the sidewall, he felt the handgun against the back of his head as the second cuff was removed by the Chinese agent. She grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back. Until now, Henry had kept his body relaxed and allowed them to push him around, but as he was turned to face the double open doors of the van and the freedom beyond them, he knew the time to make his break was now. He spun out of the wristlock, grabbed the Chinese agent and slammed her into the wall. The male agent raised his gun, as the blonde agent entered the rear. Henry lashed out, driving his foot into the agent’s crotch. The .38 fell to the floor. Grabbing the agent by the head, he rammed him into the blonde agent. She lost her balance and toppled out of the van. The van door swung inwards. He jumped forward and kicked hard, forcing it open. From behind, he heard a grunt as the door slammed into someone. In one jump he cleared the door and the fallen agent. From his side vision, he saw a guy holding his nose. Before Henry was open land. A thin wire fence stretched the property a fair distance away. He spied two tire tracks on the torn up and rough ground. He followed them. Legs pumped hard and he knew he was making good time. The male agent called for him to stop. His voice was

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strained. Frankly, Henry was surprised the man was up as fast as he was. He turned to face him and saw the .38 pointed in his direction. Damn it. He turned forward and ran harder, zigzagging toward the wire fence, knowing he wasn’t going to make it yet hoping he was. Either way it didn’t matter; the only way to stop him was with a bullet. He would win out one-way or the other. No gunshots yet. The driveway suddenly vanished and reappeared. He only had a second to notice it before he ran straight into something. He hit the ground hard, rolled onto his side, looking up. Nothing was in front of him. Empty space for as far as the eye could see and strangely the wire fence looked no closer. He could hear different voices ordering him to remain still. Leaving a spattering of blood on the ground, he staggered to his feet and reached out. His hands hit a wall. He slapped the wall and the scenery flickered. He was laughing when the security guards reached him. He was unable to stop as they pointed automatic weapons at his head. The agent was smiling as he slowly approached. “You didn’t think you’d actually get away did you?” Laughter dying, Henry said, “Nice trick. Let me make a run for it just to show off your high security bullshit.” “Take him away,” the agent ordered. 2 Two large buildings loomed in front of him. One looked like a

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factory with white-washed walls. Henry’s eyes locked on this building, they were taking him there, for sure. Shoved from behind he felt the barrel of an automatic weapon pressed against the back of his head, pointing him in the direction of the other building. The agent from the van led the way up a short flight of stairs to the front door as two female agents grabbed Henry’s arms, coxing him forward. Stepping through the door, the weapon against his head disappeared. He stood in a long hallway with doors on both sides. As he passed he heard muffled conversations and other sounds he couldn’t identify. At the end of the hallway they walked through another door and into an empty room. Their shoes clacked on the wooden floor, sending an echo bouncing. They stopped at a door without a handle. He noticed a keypad attached to the side of the jamb. With lightning speed, the agent punched in a seven-digit code. With each number pressed the machine gave off a small beep. Henry listened hard but the sounds seemed almost identical, making it nearly impossible to imitate. A backlight turned the keypad from white to pink. A word flashed on the keypad read-out: Armed. Another seven-digit code was entered and the door clicked open, revealing a grand room with thick lush carpeting, a huge old-fashioned mahogany desk, and an old man sitting behind a desktop computer. Someone pushed Henry through the entrance. It looked even bigger stepping through. It seemed as wide as the house. Thick curtains hung open, standard cream

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colored wallpaper covered the walls. Many portraits lined the walls: a couple of US presidents, a few New Zealand Prime ministers Henry recognized and a few diplomats he had often seen on the news. In each picture, the man behind the desk smiled shaking their hands. The agent spoke in whispers. The two female agents, attractive in their own right, still held his arms tight. They were stronger than they looked and their grip was fierce but he didn’t mind them holding him. The old man got up from behind the desk to face Henry. He slowly approached, seeming to take in all of Henry’s details, trying to memorize his appearance. Henry guessed the old man had barely passed fifty, yet he looked older. His receding hair was white and his face held a few wavy lines around his eyes and thin-lipped mouth, which seemed to enhance his appearance. He had a small potbelly for a stomach, yet the rest of him looked hard and firm. His shoulders stood out the most, they were thick and pushed hard against his shirt. He didn’t look like any doctor he had even seen before. The doctor eyed him closely. He leaned forward and took a deep look in his eyes, searching for something. After a moment he straightened up. “Baxter,” he said. The agent looked up. “Sir?” “Put him in our guest room.” Agent Baxter nodded. “And for the love of God, clean his face.” With a nod to the agents holding Henry, Baxter turned and headed for the door.

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“Young man.” The agents stopped walking and Henry turned to face the doctor. His face was solemn and gave the impression of truly being distressed at his actions. “Do you expect him to come for you?” Henry eyed the doctor coldly. “He will come.” The doctor turned back toward his desk and in a soft voice said, “Take him away.” “Yes, Dr. Taylor.” The agents pulled him roughly through the door. As it closed behind them, Agent Baxter leaned close to Henry and whispered, “I’m going to enjoy putting a bullet in your fucking head.” Henry stared at the floor and remained silent. His friend would come. He had to.

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Chapter 3 1 Friday 0835

Christopher Ball straightened his jacket. In the past hour, he had remained in the square, watching people wander past. Agent Baxter was getting too close. Everything had almost ended this morning. He couldn’t allow that. He had to move his plan forward. Today, it started. After tonight, the small town of Wellington would never be the same again. He would make it so. Accessing memory files, Darkness learned the location of Christopher’s office, and of a place called a super mall. There were always a lot of people at a mall. Day and night. Excellent. Ten minutes after leaving the city square, he was standing outside the automatic glass doors of a fifteen floor building. Two guards on each side of the door nodded to him. He returned the greeting in kind, strode past them and entered the darkened foyer. It was huge with a small information desk against the far side. Next to the elevators, two girls sat behind the desk, looking beautiful and bored. The rest of the area was bare. No paintings graced the walls and no furniture brightened the place. His footfalls echoed in the expanse of the highly

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polished marble floor. He smiled at the girls and pushed the ‘up’ button. His eyes automatically drifted up to watch the numbers descending. The elevator doors slid open with a soft ping. Christopher turned to the girls. Only one was watching him. He smiled and she returned it. Her name tag read: Teresa. He’d remember that name; she might be handy in the future. He rode the elevator to the top. Twice it stopped and office ladies rode a few floors. They gave him a polite nod and silently stared forward, watching the lighted numbers. They exited quickly and Darkness rode several floors alone. The doors opened on the top floor and he stepped out. A large desk faced him. “Good morning, Mr. Ball.” He nodded in response. According to memory files, he never greeted verbally, he would smile or nod, never both. Christopher, you’re a complex man, Darkness thought, as he walked slowly around the corner, into a long hall with his office at the far end of the building. There were no other offices on this side of the building apart from a cubical his secretary occupied. She was an elderly lady who kept herself busy, even on slow days. Christopher Ball was fond of her; she was dedicated and hard working. She didn’t look up when he passed. Pausing outside his door, he said to his secretary, “Morning, Sherry.” She gave him a fleeting glance. “Mr. Ball.” She went back to her typing. Darkness opened his office door. “Oh, Mr. Ball there are memos needing your urgent

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attention and several forms requiring your signature.” Not once did her fingers stop typing. He didn’t reply, closing the door softly behind him. As promised, the forms and memos were neatly stacked in two piles on his desk. Darkness went straight to the large windows and opened the blinds. Below stood Wellington Central gearing up for the day. His view was magnificent; he saw the town square and part of the new super mall. Shops were opening and cafes placed chairs and tables outside. The office door opened. “Morning coffee, sir,” Sherry said placing the cup on his table. She turned to leave. “Sherry,” he said causing her to pause at the door. “You’re not from these parts, are you?” “No, sir.” He kept his eyes on the town square, watching a group of young hippy-type people set up numerous stalls. “What do you think of Opera Sands?” “How do you mean, sir?” “What would you do if there was no town in the morning?” He turned from the activity down below. “Let’s say,” he said advancing on her, “you wake up to find everything—” he shrugged, “—different.” She smiled without humor. Darkness could hear her heartbeat rising, could taste her fear and it excited him. “Mr. Ball?” Her voice wavered, her hand shook when she tried to open the door. “Everything will be different tomorrow, Sherry. It won’t be pretty.” “You’re scaring me, Christopher. Please stop.”

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Darkness eased the door shut. “I’m not Christopher,” he said, smiling down at her. “You open that door, right this second!” Her voice was strong and forceful, fear bringing bravado. She put her hands on her hips, her lips turned into a tight frown. “I am serious, Christopher. I will call the police if you don’t release me this very second. You’re not yourself today.” She had no idea. “Oh, I’m sorry. Did I scare you?” He opened the door. “You should see a doctor,” Sherry said on her way out. “One last thing, Sherry,” he said grabbing the back of her neck. “You won’t have to worry about tomorrow.” He pushed her hard against the side of the doorjamb, forcing her head against the frame. “Christopher,” she whimpered. “My God, what are you doing? Have you gone mad?” Darkness remained silent, enjoying her fear. “Christopher?” “Be quiet.” He slammed the door. The wood splintered with the sound of breaking bone. Sherry fell limp in his grip. He held her up, looked deep into her glazed, near dead, eyes and hit her again. The side of her head caved in with the sound of a dropped watermelon. Skin and hair dangled from the indentation. Satisfied, he let the body drop to the floor. He checked the corridor, looking to see if anyone was investigating the noise. He waited a few moments, but no one came. This was the first woman he’d killed, yet he felt no different. Running his eyes over the crumpled form, he

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expected some kind of reaction, but nothing came. He guessed killing a woman was no different than killing a man. Both held the same thrill, excitement and … pleasure, until the body became nothing more than a sack of meat. He expected more from such an act. A little let down, Darkness picked up the body and carried it to the closet. Inside on the rack were a line of suits and two tuxedos. On a shelf above, sat a rack of neatly folder shirts still in plastic covers and several pairs of shoes lined the floor. Gently he laid Shelly against the wall in a sitting position and shoved the shoes aside, making a space for his dead secretary. He wasn’t sure why he was hiding her, what did it matter if she was discovered? Her death meant nothing in the plans he was formulating. With the shoes out of the way, he pushed Sherry into the closet against the wall and laid a suit over her body. Her eyes were open and staring at him. This felt weird. Two old orbs, slightly yellowed, watched him, unblinking. He grabbed another suit and covered her up completely from head to toe. Swinging the door shut, a flash of white caught his eye. He stopped the door in mid-swing, reached in and pulled the hanger off the rack. The jacket and pants were perfectly creased and starched flat. Removing the plastic cover, he noted the white suit hung straight, not a single wrinkle evident. Darkness liked this suit. The color wasn’t good, could get dirty very fast but it looked damn fine. From the top shelf, he pulled off all the shirts until he found the one he was looking for. It was black with long sleeves.

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He closed the closet door, hung the suit hanger on the handle and opened the plastic wrapped shirt. Carefully he laid it on the floor and took off the wrinkled suit he wore. It was not a body that screamed ‘fitness’, but overall, it wasn’t that bad. He had inhabited worse forms than this and was happy enough with his latest host. Not old, not young, just the right age with good taste in suits. Darkness pulled on the shirt, then the pants and finally the jacket. He took Christopher’s wallet and placed it in the left breast pocket. There were car keys in the former suit but he left them. Darkness didn’t know how to drive. 2 Nina Stewart wandered the waking streets with single-minded focus. Christopher told her to adjust her hairstyle. And she planned to do just that. Deep inside there was a gnawing hunger biting her nerves, tickling her stomach. A few times her sight turned gray, the buildings, the people, and her reflection. She found a salon open. Others she had passed and looked through the windows were still preparing for the day and some had signs demanding an appointment days in advance. Nina couldn’t wait. It had to be done today and it had to be done now. The ‘Freedom Saloon’ had its doors wide open. Inside were several chairs and basins with short shower cords. She stood in the doors looking for a price chart but couldn’t see one. “Hi there!”

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From the back room a young man, no older than twenty-five, emerged with a big smile. He was as skinny as a rake, not an ounce of meat on his bones, and he carried a deep voice. “Come in,” he said wearing a silly grin and motioning toward a chair. Nina hesitated. Her eyes scanned the wall for a diploma or certificate. She found it above the cash register. “That’s me,” the stylist said. “Only been open a week.” “You don’t look like a stylist.” “And I had hell at school because of it.” He smiled. Nina returned it and stepped inside. “Reggie Seven,” he offered. “I need a new style,” she said, not giving her name. “And you shall get it,” Reggie said, directing her to a chair. After she was seated, he draped a plastic apron across her shoulders. “I’ll be back in a second.” Nina nodded as he walked away. Looking in the mirror, she noticed her eyes and her vision switched to gray. The blue was gone, replaced with a black that swallowed every ounce of white. A movement in the mirror caught her attention. Reggie had his back to her. He leaned over a small sink and, using a bar of soap, he rubbed his hands vigorously under the running water. Finished, he turned back to her. Nina forced her eyes back to blue. They responded instantly and the quickness of the turn made her happy. She was at last getting the hang of it. Reggie ran her hair through his fingers and pulled away from her head, letting her hair fall limp and free around her

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shoulders. “So,” he asked, “what shall it be?” “I need a fringe.” “Are you sure?” She nodded. Reggie folded his arms and leaned back slightly. He frowned, deep in thought. “Okay,” he said. “A five centimeter fringe with a Pheasant tail spread. How does that sound?” “Great,” Nina said. “Need a fringe.” “You’re sure about this. Your hair looks great the way it is.” Nina smiled. “Thank you,” she said. “I just feel like a change, is all.” Reggie pulled out a comb and a pair of scissors. “Would you like a magazine to read while I’m at work?” “No thanks.” Staring into the mirror, she watched Reggie do his stuff. He combed and cut, combed and cut, restyled and clipped and worked very fast. His strokes were gentle and determined. She felt like a new woman, emerging from a cocoon for the first time.

3 Friday 0850 Simon tossed and turned in his sleep. In his dream a man was running. All around the guy, huge shadows rose, covering streets and wrapping around tall buildings. He knew he was dreaming. It was one of those watching

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dreams; he was completely detached from the guy experiencing the fear. The guy’s racing heartbeat vibrated through the air, shaking Simon. Each thump pounded his ears. The guy stopped running. He was on the street, one foot on each side of the broken white center line. Bent at the waist, he breathed hard and fast. The shadows eclipsed the sky, turning day into dusk. The guy dropped to his knees. “Please, no,” he begged, arms stretched in front of him. “I have a wife and daughter. Please.” Laughter exploded from the shadows, loud and hard. Simon’s eyes snapped open. The alarm radio was activated and the D.J was laughing about something. Sunlight beamed through the break in the bedroom curtains. Christ, he thought, reaching over and turning off the alarm radio. Too damn early to get up. He rolled onto his side facing the window and pulled the sheet over his head in a feeble attempt to block out the light. An attempt that failed. Memories of the dream flashed against his closed eyelids. Third night in a row. Same dream, same man. Only this time, there had been a response from the shadows...laughter. Then again, that could have been the dream importing outside sound, as they sometimes did. In the next room, he could hear his best friend and flatmate snoring loudly. Closing his eyes, his muscles slowly relaxed and he knew the dream wouldn’t return when he fell back to sleep. It never did.

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4 Friday 0905 Nina smiled at the transformation. Christopher was right, this style was good on her. Reggie was a great stylist and she was glad to have found him. It was weird seeing herself with this wave-type fringe; she’d never had one before. She didn’t look like herself at all. Reggie didn’t talk much, unlike other hairdressers. The Silent Stylist. She laughed at her own joke and Reggie stopped cutting. “What’s that?” he asked. “Nothing, Sorry. Just remembered something funny.” He stared at her in the mirror, waiting. Nina had no intention of explaining it to him and he seemed to quickly understand this and returned to work. Fifteen minutes later he was brushing hair off her shoulders. Before he removed the plastic sheet, he rubbed some cream into his hands and gently ran his hands through her hair. “All done,” he said, shaking hair from the plastic sheet onto the floor. “Reggie, you did a wonderful job,” she said, surprised at how great she looked. Nina stood up and the hunger burned inside. Reggie smiled, flashing white perfectly lined teeth. She felt warmth flow between her legs as she stood at the cash register. “Twenty-four dollars,” he said. “Only that?” she asked surprised.

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“First time customer.” “Great.” She pulled out her purse and handed him a fifty. Waiting for her change, she saw a door marked ‘Toilet’, near the back room. He held out a wad of notes to her but Nina didn’t take it. “You mind if I borrow your toilet?” “No, go right ahead.” He offered her the change again. “This is yours.” She dropped the money into her shoulder bag and rushed to the toilet. Inside she locked the door and placed her hand between her legs. She was soaked. Her own touch sent a tingle down her spine. Hunger ripped her stomach and she doubled over in pain. Taking a few deep breaths, she got it under control, forced the color to return to her vision, and opened the door to the empty saloon. Reggie stood at the counter looking through the windows at the passing cars and foot traffic. “Oh my God,” she said, grabbing his attention. “What?” he said, startled from his thoughts. “There’s something in there.” Nina pointed to the toilet. She stepped out of his way as he went to investigate. She followed him in and closed the door, engaging the lock. “What?” he asked, looking around the bowl and down the side. Nina undid her blouse. “This,” she said, letting it fall to the floor. “I saw you stealing looks at me.” She smiled as Reggie placed his hands on her waist. “I was doing the same.” He pulled her to him. They kissed hard. She felt his hands squeeze her buttocks, then they moved lower and he hiked up the dress. Using his weight he pushed her against the door. She pulled his head back, breaking the kiss. He lowered

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his lips to her breast and lightly chewed the nipple through the fabric of the bra. Nina squirmed, a gasp of pleasure escaped her. Grinding her pelvis against his bulge, she felt his hands unzip his fly. Gray shades filled her vision. A light gray pulsed around his body, expanding a few centimeters only to retreat back to its original size. It reflected off the toilet bowl, flashing around the small enclosure, giving the impression of a disco globe. Her panties were pulled to the side and she felt him push his meat forward. She shoved him back. Reggie looked up at her and his smile vanished. Nina grabbed his head and yanked it to the side. The thick pulsing vein in his neck called to her and she answered it with her teeth. Reggie thrashed against her but she held firm, a little surprised at her strength. Her teeth bit into the soft skin covering the now madly pulsing blue line of food. Shaking her head like an animal, she ripped the skin open and her tongue found the vein. Sucking hard, she felt the rubbery tube bluge into her mouth. Her hairdresser fell limp against her. She struggled to hold him upright as the vein slipped from her wanton mouth. She lost her hold and he dropped heavily to the floor. A tickle ran down the inside of her thigh. Squatting next to the body, she rubbed the blood off and noticed a splat of warm cum. She grunted, suddenly repulsed with its sight and wiped it on his shirt. Natural reaction to death or not, she didn’t want it on her person. His neck continued to pumped blood onto the floor in a

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steady flow. Watching the color drain and the blood slow, she realized she should have turned him. The burning hunger inside her was rage, she knew that now, and Reggie had sated her. She was finally released of years and years of pent up anger. Nina felt as if something locked deep inside her was finally free. God, it was liberating.

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Chapter 4 1 Friday 1000

Four different scenic views played on the walls of Henry’s room. Projections, as fake as the driveway. On one wall, flowers grew free and wild against a backdrop of blue sky and rolling hills. On another was a long paddock. The third wall was part of a forest and a small stream. Occasionally he saw a fish jump, breaking the water’s surface -– the sunlight spinning a rainbow of colors through the freefalling drops. The last view was an open field surrounded by trees reaching high into the sky. He was getting tired of all this nature. Why couldn’t they play city scenes, skyscrapers and congested highways and streets, pollution and road-rage, the real world that he knew and understood? The room was eerily silent, no soft music accompanied the views on the wall. No sounds wafted in from outside the room either. After meeting the old guy, Agent Baxter had taken him to a bathroom to clean up. The look in the agent’s eyes was pure hate. Weren’t they the good guys with guns and he was the bad guy who somehow got the drop on them. Darkness was smart, he had foreseen most possibilities and had planned for them.

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Henry wanted to be like him. He wanted the black eyes and the power they contained. He did a good job as a protector having proved that many times, none more so than this morning. With Baxter watching him clean his face and wash the blood from his hands, Henry felt very uneasy. He had his back to the agent, anything could happen, but he understood one thing: they needed him. He didn’t know why. Maybe they planned to use him as bait. Worried about having the agent close behind his back, Henry washed with glazed eyes glued to the mirror. Baxter watched him like a hawk. He knew the agent saw him as a murderer, and he didn’t give a shit. He had protected his friend. Nothing else all that mattered. Finished with the clean up, Agent Baxter had taken him down a long flight of steps. The female agent joined them. Henry looked her up and down. Now out of the field without guns drawn, he noticed how hot a body she had and her face was clear and not unpleasant. He would love to tap that, pity she played for the other team. She acted like a cop. A cop. Oh Jesus, Uncle Tim. He remembered seeing Baxter blow a hole into his uncle with his gun. His baby Glock. And although they rarely saw eye to eye, he did feel the loss. At the bottom of the steps, Baxter pushed him forward through a short hallway, toward the only door with a handle. Another door stood opposite it with a key card scanner and a few steps down the hall saw a small elevator. Agent Baxter unlocked the door with a handle and shoved him inside. The door slammed shut and the lock

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engaged. He was completely alone when the projections started. How long ago had that been? He had no idea, any concept of time had been removed from this room. The fake scenic view projected on the walls jumped, restarting the loop. The boredom set his nerves on edge. They tingled in his forearms and set his palms itching. In the center of the room a pile of old National Geographic and Time magazines and an empty sports bottle rested on the clear surface of a short circular wooden table in the center of the room. Next to that stood a lone wooden kitchen style chair. Against the wall was a sick looking sofa with torn cushions and next to it a refrigerator hummed softly. Inside Henry found several sports drinks. He’d polished off one already and wanted another but this room didn’t have a toilet, nor a sink, and he didn’t want to chance the need arising with nowhere to go. The sofa was uncomfortable. Apart from the tingling in his arms, they felt numb and heavy. His legs were blocks of dead trunks and his eyelids became leaden weights; he could barely keep them open. The boring view on the walls didn’t help and often they went out of focus. He shook his head to bring the focus back into play. Fuck, it was getting hard. Henry stood up and stretched. He rubbed his face fiercely, feeling the rough two day stubble poking through his cheeks. The door opened. Agent Baxter strode in. Henry backed away. The man had proved himself to be volatile and that meant dangerous, not just physically but mentally.

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Baxter went to the only chair in the room, turned it so the back was facing him and sat down. His hands gripped the sides of the wooden back. “Sit.” Henry did. The agent’s stare was hard and perfectly matched his cold voice. Baxter leaned toward the table and picked up the empty plastic sports bottle, examined it closely and smiled, a slight tilt upward from the corners of his mouth. “Like the sports drink?” he asked in a dull uninterested voice. “No booze or drugs here, sorry.” He dropped the bottle onto the floor. “Well,” he prodded. “Did you?” Henry gritted his teeth, he didn’t want to say anything to this man, or anyone else, but the urge to answer the lame question was strong. All he wanted to do was to sit and wait for Darkness to come and get him. “It was all right,” he said surprised at his own voice. Henry managed to force his head toward the wall, bringing the pathetic scenic view into focus. “How long were you with that old man?” “Only a few months,” Henry said. Stop it, he scolded himself. Stop now before ... but he couldn’t. “I knew the old man,” he continued, “before the...entity...took control.” “Entity?” Baxter’s eyebrows rose into a lowercase ‘m’ shape. Slowly he nodded and the eyebrows returned to standard position. “Is that what he calls himself these days?” Henry shrugged turning back to the agent. “Used to call himself Darkness.” “Still does, I just used ‘entity’ because that’s what he is,” Henry said locking eyes with Baxter. He couldn’t control the words spewing from his mouth. “What’s he planning?”

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Shit! He broke the stare. Baxter’s eyes were unblinking and hard. Henry’s mouth opened to answer and he managed to force a cough to stop the up-rush of vocabulary. Getting to his feet to distract himself even more, he spied the empty sports drink bottle on the floor next to the agent’s left foot. A dark thought raced through him, sending a shiver tap dancing down his spine, and goosebumps to prickle the skin on his arms. “What the fuck was in that drink?” he asked, eyes still on the bottle. Slowly, Baxter repeated his earlier question, pronouncing each word nice and clearly. “What ... is ... Darkness ... planning?” The urge to answer wasn’t as strong as it had been a moment ago. If the drink was drugged, Henry’s anger seemed to curb it, weakening its power over him. “I want my lawyer,” Henry said firmly. “You’re not getting a lawyer.” “I want a fucking lawyer. I’m not answering any more questions from you or anyone else.” Fast as lightning, Baxter was off his chair. He picked it up by the back and swung it hard against the wall. The plaster cracked and sent a jagged split down the wall. He swung it a second time and thick chunks of plaster crashed down. The third swing broke the top of the chair from the bottom, splintered the wooden back in several places. The broken chair dropped to the floor. He retrieved a broken leg long enough to be used as a club and advanced on Henry.

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His actions were smooth and fast. Henry, slightly stupefied by the sudden burst of anger, had little time to react. He cowered at the coming blow, bringing his hands across his face. Baxter dropped the leg and shoved him hard against the wall. A loud crack sounded from the wall. Grabbing him by the collar, Baxter slammed Henry three more times into the wall. Baxter hissed, “What the fuck is Darkness planning?” Henry laughed and spit a mouthful of blood into the agent’s face. In a weak voice, he answered, “He’s planning to ...” The words wouldn’t continue and unable to keep his eyes open any longer, they slid shut. And he was falling to the floor. He hit it hard on his left shoulder and Henry felt the blackness surround him, felt it pushing forward, invading his body and mind. And he was ready to allow it. His body was a mess of pain. Passing out would be welcomed bliss. Death would be just as welcome. Sliding into the realm of nothingness, he faintly heard the room’s door open and close and the lock engage with a soft click. 2 Baxter wiped the blood from his face and placed the handkerchief back into his breast pocket. He closed and locked the door behind him and turned to face Susan. “I heard a commotion,” she said, her lips turned downward in a frown. She folded her arms across her breasts. “Does he need—”

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Holding up his hand, Baxter silenced her. “No,” he said. “The kid’s fine. I scared him is all.” The lie was easy and he knew Susan wouldn’t call him on it. Together they walked to the elevator in silence. Susan leaned forward and pressed the only button, it lit up with a green ‘up’ arrow. Patiently they stared at the doors waiting for them to open; Susan still had her arms folded and Baxter had his in the pockets of his dark suit pants. He was considering what to say; he didn’t like to lie as it wasn’t the best policy to build a team on. The elevator doors swooshed open. They stepped inside. Susan stood at his side, staring directly ahead. Baxter placed his palm against a metal box. A small red light rolled from the top to the bottom and back to the top again. A computerized voice said, “What floor, Agent Baxter?” He took his hand off the scanner and said, “Level One.” Security measures were good: Palm scanning, three microcameras in the elevator that were so small he couldn’t see them. There was also word change, first floor equaled Level One, the second floor equaled Level Two and so on, all the way up to Level Four and all the way down to where they were now, B3. And this was just the elevator security. The entire building used non standard vocabulary for locations and levels. Dr. Hayden Taylor wanted more security, Baxter knew that much. This entire building was a research and defense facility; there could never be enough security. Even he didn’t know exactly what went on in this place. There were many basements running from other parts of the facility; a second building as large as this was attached directly behind this place

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by an interconnecting bridge, but he wasn’t allowed access to that or the building. He had seen people in white coats come and go, dogs led inside, several trucks backing to a loading dock. And guards. Fuck, the place was crawling with guards. There were many groups in this facility and his group was only a small part of the big picture. Susan’s words broke into his thoughts. Keeping his eyes on the doors, he asked, “What was that?” “Where were you?” she asked. “Thinking.” “About what?” “Things,” he answered plainly, putting an end to this line of questions. A moment of silence surrounded them. “I think Henry’s just an innocent kid in need of some guidance.” “What?” Baxter exclaimed. “This isn’t some bleeding heart shit, is it?” “No. Look at it from my point of view. He’s not infected, but he is confused. He believes Darkness, and you know how persuasive it can be.” She turned from the door, her eyes locked on his. “This point has not escaped me.” Baxter sighed. “You weren’t in there with me. You didn’t see or hear him. He’s more than taken in by a sales pitch.” The elevator doors swooshed open, showing the long hallway of Level One. “He’s like a devout cult member. He’s completely brainwashed.” He stepped through the opened doors into the light of the hallway. Rows of doors led to the main entrance. “It’ll take years to fix what Darkness did in minutes.”

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He turned. Susan was still in the elevator, staring at him. He could guess what she was thinking. This was out of character for him. The old Agent Baxter wasn’t in the building now. Never before had he explained his actions like this. And it was more than just tiredness making him act this way. For the life of him, he couldn’t figure out exactly why this was. When Susan didn’t say anything, he started for the entrance. He wanted to get into the van and access some of his old files. See if there was something he had missed, something that could lead him to Darkness. On the computer were a bunch of files, some from Dr. Taylor and others he’d found himself. He’d been through them a dozen times—pages and pages of text—and he would keep revisiting them until this assignment was done. At the end of the hallway he saw Agent John Dernaham, the lead tracker for his team, standing near the entrance door. Next to him, a young man with blond hair and a baby face, wearing a suit a size too big, stood in an alert stance. The light washing in from the two small windows set high in the door, back-lighted him, throwing a spear of white outlining his body. The kid snapped to attention as Agent Baxter stopped in front of Agent Dernaham. “I’m going to check some stuff. Keep your cell on.” “Yes, sir.” “Okay. If you need me ...” he tapped the phone attached to his belt, “call.” He opened the entrance door, allowing bright morning light to explode into the hallway. “Sir?” the kid said, trying to grab Baxter’s attention. He took a few steps forward. “I’ve been assigned to your team.”

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Baxter turned, frowned. “When?” “He was called in half and hour ago,” Dernaham said. The kid’s fingers twitched nervously at his side. “I don’t believe this,” Baxter said, following it with a heavy sigh. Turning on his heels, he saw Susan a few paces behind him. “Did you know about this?” “That’s what I came to tell you. Didn’t expect to find you...where I did.” “Um, sir,” the kid said. In his hands, he held a folded sheet of paper. “These are my transfer papers. I believe I’m meant to hand them to you.” He approached Baxter slowly, holding out the papers in a trembling hand. “Why are you nervous?” Baxter asked. The kid shrugged. Susan took the paper, unfolded the sheet and quickly scanned the information. She looked at Baxter. “It’s official.” “Wait here,” he ordered the three of them and stormed off. No way he was going to risk his life with a nervous kid. A newbie in the field. How could he rely on this kid? Shit, if Darkness didn’t kill him, the pressure of this job sure as hell would. Riding the elevator, he took several deep breaths to calm down. Sometimes he wondered why he had chosen this career—or had it chosen him? The elevator doors swooshed open on Level Four exposing a long hallway. Spotted along the way were several doors with people’s names on them, followed by letters. He strode quickly past the closed doors and stopped outside Dr. Hayden Taylor’s office door and knocked loudly. “Come.”

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The door opened into a much smaller room than the one he had taken Henry to. It was cramped inside with a large desk; a large old style computer sat in the middle with a pile of papers on one side and a cup of hot coffee on the other. Filing cabinets lined both walls with pot plants growing wild; leaves and stems lay limp on the metal tops and a window opened out onto the fake scenery behind the doctor. Near the window, several certificates and two diplomas were framed and pinned to the wall. Dr. Taylor sat in a large soft chair with high armrests. He removed his reading glasses as Baxter entered and motioned him to sit in a standard office swivel chair at the side of the desk. “You assigned me a kid,” Baxter said. He remained standing. “Please sit,” the doctor said in a friendly enough tone. “I prefer to stand.” Dr. Taylor’s features hardened. “I asked you to sit, Agent Baxter.” He followed the order and sat on the small chair. “Now, Tom,” Dr. Taylor interlocked his fingers and rested them on the desk in front of the computer’s keyboard, “the kid’s name is Thornton Whitfield.” “Jesus, what a name.” “Thornton has been studying the files on Darkness for the past three months. I always intended him to join your team. Whether or not you were one member down.” One member? Baxter thought. Can’t you use his name? “Due to this morning’s radio report from Agent Wong, I called in Thornton earlier than planned. He is ranked third in

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his class.” “He’s nervous,” Baxter said plainly. He was looking for anything to hold on to, anything at all he might be able to use to get the kid assigned elsewhere. But he knew it wouldn’t happen. Taylor had made up his mind, decided three months ago in fact. Nothing could be done about this decision, except make it clear that he didn’t like it. Dr. Taylor laughed softly. “So were you several years ago, when we first met. Have you forgotten?” Baxter couldn’t help but smile. “You dropped your gun, if I recall correctly.” The smile dropped from Baxter’s face. “This is different. We’re hunting an entity, not the average bad guy.” “Entity?” Dr. Taylor said. “Henry calls him that.” Instantly Baxter bit his tongue. He wasn’t supposed to have been there. No one was allowed the talk to Henry yet. The kid had to sweat it out a few hours more and then have a second meeting. “I see you have spoken to him, then?” Looking at the floor, Baxter mumbled a positive reply, and waited for the yelling that was to come. The scolding and loss of part of his salary, which always followed broken commands. “What did he have to say for himself?” He looked up at Dr. Taylor. “Nothing, sir. The boy is completely brainwashed. He believes what he did was correct.” “Had he drunk the sports drink?” “Yes sir.” “Then we have few options left, isn’t that correct?” Baxter nodded.

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“Next time, Agent Baxter, if you want to interrogate a detainee, clear it with me first. Understood?” “Yes sir,” Baxter answered. He stood up. “I’ll go and greet the kid, what’s his name—Thornton—and take it from there.” Dr. Taylor nodded. He didn’t wait for Baxter to leave his office before putting on his glasses and resuming work.

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Chapter 5 Friday 1022 Leaning heavily against the toilet door, Nina stared at the dead body of Reggie. Pity. He had seemed like a real nice guy. Her rage was gone for now; she felt at ease. Happy. Content. Hanging from her miniskirt, her blouse was splattered with blood in several places. Drying fluid covered her chin and spotted her neck. Using the back of her hand, she wiped away any hanging globs and clambered to her feet. How long had she been here? Nina didn’t know. After feeding, she had felt so great that she couldn’t move and had sat there, against the door, staring at the limp body. Her vision was still gray, everything shades of gray, and she liked it. Was this how an animal saw the world? She didn’t know but the thought of being an animal (like a wolf or tiger or better yet, a jaguar) intrigued her. One part of her mind told her she had fucked up; that this was not normal and the gray sight was not right. She had changed and had become something else. Something different. The last memory she had was talking to Christopher Ball, her boss and the man she longed for. He wasn’t the greatest person in the world, had many flaws she had noticed over the past few years but, God, she was attracted to him. He in turn and been nothing more than friendly toward her.

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Now that she was different, maybe he might find her more appealing. A girl could hope, couldn’t she? The color returned to her sight. The harsh vivid colors surprised her. The redness of blood screamed from the bright white painted walls. It stood out, vibrant and alive. Reggie’s pale face, eyes open, stared at her; accusing orbs damned her. “Sorry, Reggie, couldn’t help myself,” she said softly. She needed somewhere to clean up and recalled him entering the shop from a back room. There was bound to be a sink she could use in private in there. Carefully, she opened the door a couple of centimeters. Reggie’s arm rested against the door. It slipping down as she opened it and peered out. No customers, but a lot of foot traffic outside. Hopefully no one would look inside. Re-locking the door, she struggled to move his heavy body. Nina tried to bring back the grayness but it wouldn’t come. Shit, he was a dead weight in the very true sense of the word. It took her a couple of minutes to move him and readjust his final pose. Sweat spotted her forehead and she required a few deep breaths to slow the pounding heartbeat. She was so unfit and didn’t like it. This was a weakness. Too much easy living, too much convenience in life, too many gadgets and it had made her lazy. She wanted to consider herself a Jaguar, a primal animal, a beast of sleek and muscular form—instead of the weak, pathetic thing she saw in the mirror everyday. Yet, when she had the gray vision, she had felt different, stronger. She wanted the Jaguar vision constantly, wanted it to be her main form of sight. There had to be a way to

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control it, didn’t there? She could consider that later. Right now, she wanted to get out of here, get cleaned up and— The doorbell chimed. Fuck. Nina held her breath. Listened to the soft footfalls as the gray vision returned. Her hearing increased; she could hear the thunderous heartbeat of the customer or was that only her imagination? A new need overcame her, not one of hunger but of something else. She couldn’t identify this new emotion, this new need. This was a learning curve she had to master. There were bound to be many new things for her to learn, but right now, the person in the shop was her top priority. “Hello? Anyone here?” A woman’s voice. Nina pressed her ear against the door. She had to do something before the woman left and so she started crying. Loud sobs escaped her as she unlocked the toilet door and dropped into a sitting position. “Hello?” She pushed at the toilet door. It opened a few centimeters. A moment later the woman appeared a few meters from the toilet, peering in through the gap. Her mouth dropped open and eyes became perfect circles. “They hurt us,” Nina managed through sobs as the color returned to her sight. She had willed it this time. It was a great disguise. “Oh my lord,” the woman said, color drained from her face as she rushed forward.

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Nina stood up, using the wall for support. Her knees were bent and legs shook as she took a step forward. The customer was in her mid forties, wore a K-Mart name tag, reading, “Hi, my name is Beth.” Her hair was light brown with hints of gray on the side. She was a large-busted woman, but not overweight. Nina tripped on the way out of the toilet and the woman caught her with strong arms. “Are they still here?” Nina whimpered. Beth took a fugitive look around. “I don’t think so,” she said, worry creeping into her voice. “Let’s get you out of here and let the police deal with this.” Nina gripped her in a fierce hug. “Thank you,” she said. “Thank you.” The woman returned the hug, patting her lightly on the back. The gray sight returned. As the hug broke, she gripped Beth’s head and turned her face. Her tongue darted out and pushed past the older woman’s eyelids. Nina did the same to her as Christopher had done. She licked the eyeball. Beth backed away from Nina. She looked about with gray eyes as if confused to her whereabouts. “Go to work,” Nina said. Beth nodded. She went to the front door. A cell phone rang from inside her handbag. She pulled it out and answered. “Hello?” A smile graced her face. “Hi, Hubby...yes...oh sure, okay. Is everything all right?” She listened intently. “Uh huh. Yes, I’ll come home right away.” She hung up and returned the phone to her handbag. “That was my husband,” she announced. “Something’s happened. I have to go home.”

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“You have a gift for him, don’t you?” Nina said. A wide smile spread across Beth’s face. “Yes, I do,” she said happily. Nina saw a swirl of color wash across Beth’s eyes, bright eyes, reds and greens. The gray left and the soft brown returned. “Hurry home.” Beth nodded and left. Nina went into the small back room and discovered a sink with a mirror above it. There was a sofa and a television. A DVD player rested on top of it. Next to the sink was a small hand towel. She washed her face best as she could. The clean up wasn’t great but it removed the blood from her chin, lips and neck. Frowning, she pulled off her blouse, filled the sink with water and soaked it. Using the soap, she vigorously washed away the blood. The water quickly turned pink. In the mirror, she spied a closet. It had gone unnoticed before. She turned to it. The door was open a crack. Slowly, she went to it and opened the door wide. Inside were a number of suits and casual clothes. She had hit the jackpot. Granted they were all for men, but Reggie was skinny, they were bound to fit. There were three black suits and one white suit. She chose the white one. It seemed like the right choice. “Thank you, Reggie,” she said, fully dressed. She checked her appearance in the mirror. She whistled. “Damn, white’s my color.” The suit was a perfect fit, except the legs were a little long. She rolled up the legs and put on her high heels. Casually, she walked through the saloon, picked up her handbag and put on the sunglasses. Today was going to be

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interesting.

Friday 1033

Darkness was dressed to kill. He stood at the large panorama view windows and watched the traffic going back and forth. Earlier he had found a Rolex watch in the locked drawer of Christopher’s desk. It seemed as if there were two Christopher Balls. The one he met in the town square and the businessman. Both were kept apart. Accessing memory files, he learned that work and private life was different; they were always kept separate. Darkness smiled as he watched the traffic pass below. It was thick and heavy with trucks, cars, motorbikes and pedestrians. All going their separate ways, locked into their private little worlds. A woman in her early forties, dressed in a K-Mart uniform, caught his attention. She was an agent. One of his. He could feel it. Darkness was spreading. One of his had been busy. The woman looked up, stopping in mid-step. He knew she couldn’t see him from her lower position and through tinted windows, but it seemed as though she could. He waved and was relieved when she didn’t respond. There was something different with that woman down

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there, and her...infection. He could barely see the shadowy haze outlining her body, a sign she was one of his. This woman wasn’t yet one with the infection. He wasn’t worried. That woman seemed stronger than most, but Darkness expected these cases, not everyone could be entirely converted. Darkness moved to the large office desk. A laptop computer sat on top with the screen up, a small orange light blinked on and off indicating stand-by mode. The rest of the large table was bare, save a few sheets of paper on the front right hand corner. Behind the desk, a large leather padded executive chair waited for occupancy. Darkness sat down and saw the two drawer cabinets. He tried the top drawer first but it was locked. He opened the left hand side drawer and discovered an external HDD, MO, a number of CD’s and a DSL unit. All three units had cords running from them that disappeared through the back. All were activated. He shut the drawer. “Who works for you that could be useful,” he wondered aloud. He tried to access memory files. It took a few moments to realize he was struggling. Deep inside him, Christopher Ball was fighting his efforts. This was a completely new experience. None of the other shells he’d used had done this. He had a fighter on his hands, an energy that refused to just die. No matter, all energy dissipated over time. He could wait. Until then Darkness forced Christopher Ball back down into a dark empty chamber as deep inside his personality as he could. Regaining full control once more, Darkness kept pushing to be sure Ball would not return. Satisfied the job was

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done, he accessed memory files for the employee information but was rewarded with a slim file, containing only those he saw regularly at the office. The employee list was available on the computer. He reached over and pushed the ‘on’ button, disengaging it from stand-by mode. The screen came to life and from the left hand drawer he heard the hardware whir into action. Most of the icons had numbers attached to them, only a few had names. He found the employee list easily. It was called, emp_acos.xml. He double clicked it and a small screen appeared: Enter Password Please. He typed it in and the screen went blank for a second before the file opened. It consisted of a single web address. He clicked it and came to a website called, ‘Employees’. There were hyper links for Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and Invercargill. These were followed by hyperlinks to branches in different countries. Darkness was ecstatic. He had hit the jackpot with Christopher Ball, and realized with all this information and resources at his fingertips, Darkness could build an army. An army of Darkness. Worldwide.

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Chapter 6 1 Friday 1048 Mark’s eyes snapped open as he rolled onto his side. He didn’t move again for the next few minutes. His sight remained unfocused on the bareness of his room. Almost everything was gone, moved to his girlfriend’s room. He still hadn’t found the right moment to tell Simon he was moving out. Later today he would be gone. There was no way to put it off any longer. He had to tell him, ASAP. The ‘Triumph Boys’ liked and trusted him, and that was all that mattered these days; the boys and his girl. Yanking his arm to his face, Mark focused on the small hands of his watch. Shit, ten-fifty. That ain’t no time to wake up. Mark pulled the tangled blankets from his sweat-soaked body and moved into a sitting position with his legs on the floor. He wore only a pair of boxers. A large dragon fighting a tiger was tattooed on his back in full vibrant color. It had taken six months to get that done. Money was a bitch to find at times and he had to pay cash for every session. It was worth it though. The design was beautiful and details fine. It looked better than great; it was fantastic. With his elbows on his knees, he rested his head in his hands and sighed loudly. It was far too early to wake up, let alone get up, but he did and went straight to the shower. On the

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bedside table there was a small bag of ‘Mary-Jane’. He tapped it lightly as he passed, like he would a pet.

2 Friday 1052 Donnie pulled to the curb. His Triumph rumbled in the quiet neighborhood. The bike was his pride and joy, his single reason for waking up in the morning. He listened to the sound of the grunting engine. The growl of power was music to his ears and the next best thing to sex. Ride or fuck? Ride, baby, ride. Behind him, he heard a distinct roar of four Triumphs pulling to a stop. His buddies; the only people in this world he’d be willing to die for and he knew they felt the same. A woman in a K-Mart uniform walked past them. She gave Donnie a look to kill a thousand men, showing her disapproval of their kind. “Hey babe,” he said with a large smile. “Nice legs.” He hadn’t bothered looking; the comment alone would piss her off. She didn’t respond like he’d hoped and continued on her way. Donnie watched her walk to the second driveway and after checking her mailbox, she threw one more fleeting glance of disgust at him and continued to her house. She lives there? It’s going to be even more fun taking hubby’s ride. Revving the beast, he moved forward. At the same

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driveway where the K-Mart bitch had entered, he saw the husband wearing a suit and sitting crossed legged in front of his Triumph.

3 She felt filthy, abused even. Beth felt that idiot’s eyes all over her rear-end and suddenly felt self conscious. She checked her mail box. It was a bit early for mail but one never knew if something was there, bills or whatnot. And besides, it would take her mind off those thugs. Not really wanting to do it, she turned and stole a quick look at the one who’d insulted her. Nice legs. The little punk. He sat atop the same kind of bike her husband owned. The fascination with these British bikes was something she could never understand and she accepted that, claiming the bike and hobby as one of those ‘men’ things. Boys with toys. She loved Thomas with all her heart; he was the whole world to her. This morning’s plan was to surprise him with a new hair style—he liked it when she did things like this, but— she hadn’t gotten it done. Beth tapped the sides and top, nothing was different. She remembered the blonde woman touching her and a shiver ran down her back and turned warm, finally settling between her legs. She swallowed a sudden lump in her throat. Women had never turned her on before, but this woman, Nina…She shook her head clearing these thoughts. She loved only her husband. Through the open door of the garage, she saw her husband sitting crossed legged like he always did when a chair

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wasn’t around. My God, he’s wearing his suit. Did he not care about the dry cleaning? It looked like he was polishing that damn bike of his. How many insurance salesmen owned a thugtype bike? Watching her husband, she felt a stirring that had long since been dormant finally awaken within her. Did she have Nina to thank for that? Beth closed the small mailbox and walked up the path. At the side of the house, she crossed the lawn and headed for the garage, as a rumble of bikes slowly passed. She tried to fight the urge to watch them, but failed. The bikes passed slowly. The one in the lead was looking into the garage at her husband—or was it the bike he was interested in? The rumble of bikes increased as the group opened throttle and sped off down the street. At the garage, she leaned against the roller door side rails. “Hey hon.” Thomas looked over his shoulder. “Hey you,” he answered, throwing the polishing rag next to the rear wheel. “I didn’t expect you back so quick.” “You called me, remember?” Thomas got to his feet and brushed dust from his suit pants. “Let’s go inside, I have something to tell you.” His eyes locked with hers and he added, “Don’t worry. It’s good news.” “Thank the Lord.” Beth sighed loudly. “Your call had me—” “Beth the Worrier,” he said smiling, cutting her sentence short. “Let me clean up a bit, okay, and I’ll see you inside.” “I’ll put on the coffee,” Beth said turning from the

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garage. Her mind was a whirl of questions. She’d just have to wait for Thomas to tell her. It could be one of a million things; even trying to guess was a waste of time. At least it was good news. She didn’t have to wait long. Through the kitchen window, Thomas was visible, hard at work scrubbing his hands in the garage sink. She watched him dry his hands on a dusty towel and leave the garage. Inside, Thomas took off his suit jacket and draped it across the nearest kitchen chair. The coffee machine gurgled in the background. “What’s the big thing you have to tell me?” Beth asked, taking two coffee mugs from the top shelf. When Thomas didn’t answer, she turned and saw him rummaging through his jacket pockets. “Shit,” he mumbled and disappeared into the living room. He returned with his briefcase and placed it on the table. From an inside pouch, he pulled out an envelope. “This is what I wanted to show you.” Thomas opened the envelope and pulled out two air tickets. “What are those?” “Rome,” he said, a big smile stretched across his chubby face. “No.” “Yes.” “No.” “Yes.” “Oh my God!” Beth screamed. She moved forward and took the tickets from his hand. Holding them like the prized

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possessions of the Gods. “We leave, day after tomorrow.” “But that’s too soon—” Thomas cut her off. “No, it’s not,” he said, wrapping his arms around her in a tight hug. “Your dream vacation,” he whispered into her ear. She turned to him and their lips locked and for the first time in years, Beth felt her husband’s tongue slip into her mouth.

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Chapter 7 1 Friday 1100 The sound of the shower roused Simon from the comfort of his bed. The sun sent thin rays sliding through the gaps in his curtain. Dust danced in the bright beams. With effort, he struggled out from under the covers feeling more drained of energy than before. The phone rang in the kitchen. He stumbled down the hallway, using the high pitched bleep bleep as a guiding beacon against the blurred sleep vision. At the kitchen, Simon stared numbly at the phone, then decided to ignore it. Whoever was on the other line could call back. Filling the jug with water, he plugged it into the socket and prepared two cups of instant coffee and sugar. All the time, the phone just keep ringing, its tone finally getting to him, jangling his nerves, forcing him to answer. He reached across, his hand a couple of centimeters from the receiver when it fell silent. The jug whistled and automatically switched off. The kitchen and living room occupied the same space, separated by a waist high T partition that also served as a shelf. The living room was sparse; there was a tattered sofa, one Easy-Boy chair that Mark usually occupied and an excellent home entertainment center with a DVD/Video machine and a fifty-

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two inch TV with Cable. A small stereo sat against the wall on worn carpet that was threadbare in several places. Mark entered the kitchen fresh from his shower. A damp towel around his waist. “All yours,� he said and disappeared, leaving wet footprints in his wake. A moment later, a door slammed shut. The phone rang again. Simon filled both cups with boiling water. Quickly grating his nerves, the phone continued with its high bleeping. He carried his cup of coffee to the living room and turned on the stereo. Outside a beautiful Friday was well under way and he had no plans at all. Using the remote, he upped the volume and drowned out the phone. His feet tapped to the beat as he stared out the window.

2 Friday 1120 Naked on the bed, Beth shivered as Thomas exploded his load into her, causing her to orgasm at the same time. Her fingers raked his back and he kissed her hard on the mouth before rolling off. He lay next to her, breathing heavily. She listened to the sound, trying to match the breathing. Failing that, she moved onto her side and ran her index finger down his sweaty chest. With his eyes shut, his hand reached hers and gripped it firmly.

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Sunlight beamed strongly against the shut curtains and Beth swore she could hear birds singing. Without warning, her vision suddenly lost all color. Panic welled inside. Everything was gray, even the bright sunlight was a pale gray. My God, what’s happening? Then she remembered the woman at the hair saloon. And she was suddenly calm. Thomas had given her a gift of Rome, and she had a gift for him as well. Thomas rolled onto his side, releasing her hand. Beth kept her arm across his waist. He always slept on his side, facing away from her, ever since they were teenage lovers. But it was early morning. He couldn’t possibly be sleeping. “Thomas?” “Yeah?” “Look at me.” He returned to lying on his back but kept his eyes shut. The sweat was sticky on his chest, drying. Beth leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. Thomas smiled. Using her fingers, she forced his eyelids up. Soft bedroom eyes stared at her and the smile vanished. “Jesus, Beth. Your eyes—” He tried to push away from her, but she held him firm. Her tongue lashed out, glided along his slick eyeball and removed any further resistance from her husband. His body lay limp on the bed. She leaned to the other eye and licked it slowly, savoring the taste and feel. It was more erotic than Thomas slamming into her moments ago. The color returned to her sight and she realized her eyes

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had changed back. Pity. She was starting to enjoy the grayness. Thomas’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and slid into view a moment later. The soft bedroom brown was gone, replaced by a tiny black orb, surrounded by white with jagged red lines shooting in all directions. From the back of his throat a snarl rumbled forth like a dog on watch. His body twitched and he rolled to the left and fell off the bed. Beth scrambled to the side and looked down at her husband. He was on his back, staring at the ceiling with blue eyes. She expected black like they were seconds ago, or the brown he was born with. Not sharp, icy blue. Yet, he did look somehow stronger, better than before ... and yes, sexier. “Thomas?” Beth couldn’t contain the excitement rushing at her, ripping through her body and tingling her nerves. Everything was perfect. A new and exciting life faced them now. With the gift, they could achieve many things. She was happy. “This is wrong,” he said. “It couldn’t be more right,” she countered. He looked at her, his new blue eyes hard and cold. “What did you ...” Anger crept into his voice, “What did you do to me?” “It’s a wonderful gift.” He got up off the floor and walked to Beth’s makeup dresser that had a large circular mirror attached to two poles. For a long time, he studied his reflection, the blueness of his eyes. Worried, she got off the bed and slipped into her panties, skirt and blouse. His tight shoulder muscles twitched as he gripped the

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sides of the mirror. She needed the grayness to return and calm her, but the living, vibrant color remained. From the drawer she pulled out a flower patterned blouse and loose fitting white jeans. “I feel...” She turned to see him watching her in the mirror. “Stronger?” she asked hoping he had come around to her way of looking at the gift. “Wrong,” he finished. Frustrated and accepting her error, she said, “Why can’t you see the possibilities this has opened?” “What fucking possibilities?” he spat. His left hand grabbed the top of the mirror and his right hand took hold of the bottom. He leaned against it heavily. The makeup dresser tilted to the wall. “I see no possibilities. There is nothing.” His hands pushed and pulled at the mirror causing the dresser to bounce off the wall and lurch back and forth. Beth raced for the door. A loud snap caused her to look back. She knew what had happened but she still had to see. Her head turned slowly... Spinning toward her, the mirror swept through the air. Crying out, she dove out of the way. The carpet burned her hands and tore the sleeves of her blouse. The mirror smashed into the plaster wall and dropped heavily to the floor, just missing her feet. She scrambled back until she hit the wall and drew her knees to her chest. Suddenly, Thomas was standing in front of her. She hadn’t seen him approach. Shaking his head, he said, “I’m sorry, but this must be contained.” He grabbed his suit from the floor and dressed.

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“How many others have you given this to?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “I can’t believe you thought this was a good thing. Can’t you feel how wrong this is? What’s wrong with you, woman?” He turned on his heel and stepped out of the room. Beth didn’t realize she was shaking until she stood up and saw her hands. While staring at them, the vibrant olive color faded into gray. And the grayness calmed her. She heard the closet across the hall open with its usual squeak. A few things dropped to the floor. Fuck, he’s getting the shotgun. Only one place she could go. The window. It was her only chance. Her sight and hearing was sharper and she heard the unmistakable sound of a round being pumped into the chamber. The sound got her legs moving and she was at the window in a few steps. The window slid up as the sound of a slammed door ripped fear into the room. Without hesitation, Beth dove out head first. Her hands hit the cold hard concrete at the side of the house, followed by her stomach and knees. God, it hurt, but there was no time to think about that now. Quickly she got to her feet and dashed into the surrounding bushes. She crouched in the foliage, hopefully hidden from view. A second later, Thomas leaned out the window, shotgun gripped tightly in his hands. It was an old weapon with a long barrel. As far as she knew, it had never been used, but her husband cleaned it every week. He’d take it apart, all the pieces scattered on the kitchen table, cleaning fluid in the middle of

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the mess. She remembered his words clearly when she asked why he went to such bother every Saturday. Just in case we need it, he’d said. She figured he thought he needed it now. Thomas scanned the area. A few times his blue eyes stopped moving and stared as if he were watching her, and Beth held her breath, waiting for the shotgun to be aimed and fired, but each time his eyes moved on until finally he stepped away from the window and she heard the bedroom door slam shut. Frozen in fear, knowing she had to move, she couldn’t. He was coming for her, she felt it, he would hunt her down and if she didn’t get a move on, it would be all over. Yet her legs refused to take action; her crouch unbalanced and she dropped onto her knees. Her entire body shook. Thomas wasn’t a stupid man; he had to know she was hiding around here. There hadn’t been time to go anywhere else. In her mind’s eye, she saw him stalking around the house, shotgun butt against his shoulder. No Rome, no gift, no life. The image terrified her. She had to run, had to take a chance. Leaning forward, she checked both directions. Clear. She got to her feet. Against the wall of the house, she slid to the corner and peeked around. The front was clear. The day was quiet. A small girl on a tricycle rode past her mailbox; her mother walked next to her at a quick pace, trying to keep up with the bike. They were both laughing. Beth felt a pang of jealousy. A car cruised past. A few houses down, a dog barked. An elderly couple, holding hands, walked slowly along the footpath. They stopped and said something to the

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mother of the girl in the pink dress and braided hair. The girl stopped her tricycle to look up at them. Beth was about to step forward when the front door slammed. Thomas stepped onto the bottom step, shotgun in hand and scanned the scene at the mailbox. The people out front didn’t see him; they said goodbyes and walked on. Peeking around the corner of the house, she saw Thomas walk purposefully to the garage. He disappeared inside and she counted to twenty before making a break and running to the footpath. She dashed around past the mailbox and, thankfully, the neighbor’s fence hid her from view. What the hell was he doing in there? The question echoed, bouncing around inside her head until she had to know what was going on. She found herself walking back. From the bottom of the driveway, she saw him. Thomas had his back to her. The shotgun barrel was locked inside a vice and he was sawing furiously. He let out a triumphant laugh as the barrel broke free of the stock. She raced across the road and watched Thomas from the safety of a short hedge. He turned and stared down the driveway with a sawn-off dangling loosely at his side. He wore his suit and a long raincoat over his business shirt and tie. Beth didn’t realize she’d been hiding long enough for him to change his clothes. Thomas walked down the driveway and entered a neighbor’s property on the right. He banged loudly on the door. A woman opened the door. A smile spread across her face. “Thomas, what a surprise.” Beth saw Thomas push his way in. A moment later,

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three shotgun blasts rocked the quiet of the day. Oh my Lord. Is this what he meant by containment? Lisa’s front door opened and Thomas exited. He looked up and down the street, then proceeded to the next house down. He was working systematically. Most likely he’d work his way to the end of the street and come back up on the other side. They didn’t know the neighbors of the next few houses. Thomas kicked open the door and entered. This was her chance. Beth sprinted across the road back to her house. Inside, she grabbed her purse, bankbook, and hurriedly packed some clothes into a shoulder bag. She went to the kitchen, grabbed the air tickets to Rome and dropped them into her purse. In the living room, she found her passport in the cabinet drawer where small glass animal-shaped trinkets lined the top glass shelf. She heard another shotgun blast. Thomas was hard at work. Surely someone must have called the police by now? Yet she couldn’t hear any sirens. Beth picked up the phone and dialed the emergency number. Her hands shook from the excitement and fear and she had to concentrate on the numbers. Twice she misdialed. “What emergency assistance do you require?” “Police.” Beth put the handset on the table next to the phone and left. Outside, she saw Thomas five doors down. She waited for him to enter another house, then took off down the street in the opposite direction.

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Chapter 8 Friday 1203

“Toke it back dude ... yeah bro that’s the way ... hold it man, hold it ... and release.” “Dude,” Simon Buffalo said blowing out a long stream of smoke. “I know how to do it.” Mark took the joint out of Simon’s hand and inhaled four deep hits. A moment later, he blew it out and leaned deep into the couch. Simon smiled at his old friend. Recently, Mark’s interest in weed had grown while Simon was turning away from it. In truth he didn’t really like it. Where it relaxed and mellowed his best friend, it had the opposite effect on Simon. “Hey,” Mark said, holding out the joint offering it, but Simon shook his head. “Man take a hit.” “Don’t want it.” “What the fuck?” Simon got up and turned on the television. It was his way of ending the subject. “Oh, man. At least put on a fucking movie,” Mark complained taking another hit. Four. Four joints since we got up two hours ago. He was sick of it. Heading back to the sofa, he almost tripped over his two feet, his arms flailed and his body lurched forward. Miraculously, he regained his balance and flopped

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down onto the sofa beside his best friend. The phone in the kitchen rang. They both ignored it. Mark muted the TV and using the remote, he started the CD player. In Flames boomed through the apartment drowning out the shrilling of the phone and all outside world sounds. Simon closed his eyes and relaxed. He had just smoked his last joint and if his friend couldn’t handle that, then he wasn’t really a friend. They were changing, he couldn’t deny it. Mark still wore the torn jeans and an old AC/DC T-shirt, was unemployed and having fun. Simon was also out of work, but not from choice. He liked the money that working full time gave him and he preferred it. The phone continued to ring. “Wanna get that?” he asked Mark. “Nah, fuck it.” “Most likely one of your friends,” Simon added. Mark waved it away. “Cool,” he said, closing his eyes again. The phone didn’t stop ringing. They had no answering service but this incessant ringing grinded on his nerves and started to piss him off to the point where he considered, right this instant, to buy one—as soon as he had enough cash. He looked at Mark. His friend seemed totally out of it. His eyes were closed and his mouth was slightly open. Enjoying the buzz. Fuck it. He got up and went to the kitchen. He picked up the receiver and instantly dropped it back into the cradle cutting the connection, then pulled out the jack. “The phone’s unplugged,” he informed Mark, who

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nodded his head in understanding. Simon went to his room. It was sparsely decorated. It had an old writing desk with a roll down metal door that he never used. A laptop computer sat on top with a pen and a notebook next to it. A double bed was up against the wall under a window. Next to that was a small table with an alarm clock. The digital numbers read: 1:05. He considered opening the laptop and doing some more work but lay on the bed with his hands clasped behind the back of his head. A couple of times he noticed his eyes drift to the computer but he just couldn’t get his body to move. He sighed deeply, there was always later. He began to think about what he already had compiled on the machine, when a knock at his door startled him. “Dude, I’m out of ‘ere. Gonna meet Donnie in the square, then we’re heading off to ‘The Crossed Arms’. Meet ya there if ya want.” Simon closed his eyes. He didn’t bother replying. He didn’t feel like going and spending what little cash he had for alcohol.

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Chapter 9 1 Friday 1347 Henry awoke with a pounding headache. He groaned at the pain and rolled onto his side. A sledgehammer thudded against his temples and he rubbed them vigorously, but it only brought more pain. Moving onto his back, he laid his hands at his sides and inhaled slowly and deeply. Placing one hand on top of the other, the skin seemed to stick. His vision was slightly blurred as he raised his hands to his face but he clearly saw the clotted blood. Gingerly, he searched for more. There didn’t seem to be any cuts on his face or forehead, although the right side of his head held a blotch of sticky drying red. Rising up slightly, he fingered a large bump surrounded by wetness. The slightest touch sent a lightning bolt of intense pain racing through his skull. This morning’s scene appeared in front of his eyes, like the scenes playing on the walls. He saw himself in slow motion pull out his beloved Glock and squeeze the trigger. The Glock rebound in his hand. He watched the agent drop to the ground as blood and meat exploded across the street. He had shouted, firing at the bastards carrying Darkness. He gave no thought to the aftereffects of his actions. All he cared about was getting his friend out of a tight situation. It was beautiful.

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The Entity. He laughed silently and it sent a bolt of pain ripping across his skull. Baxter had wanted to know what his friend, Darkness, was up to. What was he planning? And drugged as he was, Henry had called him, The Entity. He had no idea why, it just popped out. At least he hadn’t given anything away, not that he knew much. Henry shook the thoughts from him. He needed his thoughts to be clear and focused, he had no idea when they might return. Struggling, he made it into a sitting position and stared at the locked door. The floor was hard and the tattered sofa looked good for his aches and pains. Getting to his feet was a real problem, the act drained his energy like a loss of blood-sugar, his thighs twitched and stomach turned slowly. He took several deep breaths, which helped a little, not enough to make much difference though. His eyes were closed and when he opened them again, his vision of the room blurred and wobbled. It turned slowly at first but quickly gained power and speed. His body swayed. Christ, he was about to fall. Instinctively, he put his hand against the wall to stop from losing balance. An exposed nail cut his palm. The pain knocked the dizziness away. Clear headed, he looked at the small and insignificant cut surrounded by a thin layer of plaster-dust. A long crack scarred the wall. Near the bottom a chunk of plaster had broken free. It wasn’t a solid wall? This place is full of illusionary shit. Swinging a foot at

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the broken bottom, his foot kicked through with little resistance, sending chunks into the space beyond. Excited, thinking he had found an escape route, Henry kicked harder and faster. A few minutes later, with sweat beading his forehead, an entire section busted open. Instead of seeing an escape route, he saw a darkened room. The stale air wafting through the opening was rancid. The dust burned his nose and he sneezed. Little light reached the room, barely breaking the black. Henry leaned through the gap; the room contained many dark shapes but only a few he could make out in the pale light; a baby cot closest to him with side rails, inside the cot he could make out a few shapes, a few things scattered on the floor and the rest of the room was shrouded in darkness. What the hell is this? Stealing a glance at the locked door behind him, Henry decided to venture in. Maybe there was a toilet he could use or better yet, a weapon. Pressing his palm lightly against the inner wall, he felt along the side for a light switch but was unsuccessful, so he stumbled forward in the dark, dragging his feet as not to step on something that could trip him up. He’d been on the floor enough for one day. Slowly, he made his way to the opposite side of the room. His hip bumped something hard. He reached out and felt a steel pole rising higher than himself. He looked to the ceiling but couldn’t see anything. He felt a second and third bar, followed by more. Using the bars as a guide, he made his way to the wall. With his back against it, he slid along the wall. There

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was an aura here that made him feel uncomfortable. A sensation that jangled his nerves; and the blackness of the room didn’t help to settle them. His hands swept the side next to him and bumped a knob. His back slid over vertical bumps. Hinges, he realized and turned to face the door. A way out at last and he couldn’t wait to get out of this room. It was eerie. An essence of...something lingered here. Turning the knob slowly, he tried to pull open the door but it wouldn’t budge. There was a little give, enough to slide a credit card through, but he doubted it that actually worked. And besides, that agent had done something with his wallet. There was nothing in his pocket except lint. He was in a sealed room. Something bad went down here. What exactly was this room? Moving along the wall in hope of another door, he dropped his hand on the light switch. Immediately, he flicked it into the ‘on’ position. Fluorescent lights flickered and Henry caught glimpses of things but nothing he could identify. The effect was the same as a night club until the lights stopped flickering and hard white light burst into the room. Henry blinked against the sudden brightness. The room was larger than he thought. It wasn’t wide but long. The steel bars he’d felt proved to be the bars of a cage, like a jail cell. Ripped soft toys filled the baby cot: Bunnies, Lions and a Tiger. The shredded mattress lay bunched up and without shape on the floor. Steel lab tables with dust covered instruments including Bunsen burners and a few other items he

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had no names for filled the rest of the room. At the other end was a large desk, with a swivel chair of the old steel variety and behind that against the wall four filing cabinets collected dust. Close to him behind the lab tables he noted a large bookshelf and at the side of it a TV/VCR unit. And next to that he saw heaven in the form of a door marked, ‘Toilet’. Praise the Gods. He opened the door, bursting to take a whiz, and a vile stench hit him full on, hard in the face, like a physical object. It knocked him back a step, but he had to go. Here or on the floor, it didn’t matter. He couldn’t bring himself to piss against a wall when a toilet was available. So he braved the odor that reminded him of sewers and compost rot. Inside were two urinals and one stall with a closed door. The smell was coming from there, and it made his eyes water. His bladder screamed. Now or never. He pulled up his shirt to cover his nose, in the hope of diluting the god-awful stench. He did his business and zipped up. The stall door caught his attention, and a second later his hand gripped the handle. Images of what could be inside overrode his curiosity. “No way,” he whispered and released the handle. He’d seen too many horror movies to know not to open that fucking door. He shook his aching head to clear it for the job at hand. Someone was bound to come with questions for him, and when they discovered he wasn’t in the little room with drugged sports drinks, an alarm would be raised. He had to find a key for that door or a weapon. His search around the tables produced nothing. Next he

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moved to the bookshelf, preferring to be systematic in his hunt, start at one end and work his way to the other end. The shelves were filled with books on ancient myths and legends, new science journals, encyclopedias and medical texts. A few photos in plastic frames were on the shelves acting as bookends. In one photo, Henry recognized the man he had met earlier that day; he was younger and an attractive woman was at his side, their arms around each other and a smile with the future of happiness beaming from it. He picked up the picture, two books dropped from the photo’s removal and a new strange sensation filled his chest; he felt dry and hollow, as if something had been removed from inside. The smiles, the way they stood, the sparkle in their eyes showed a coupling that was meant to be. A future of pure bliss spread out before them. Anger slowly filled the emptiness. It slopped against the walls and rose against the sides. The longer he stared at the image of the perfect couple, and the knowledge he’d never achieve that, the more it touched a nerve. His fingers squeezed the photo frame. The anger inside bubbling against the walls exploded outward. It mixed with the fear of what had happened in this room and what might happen to him if he didn’t get out. It sure as fuck wasn’t a law enforcement agency. God, he suddenly realized he might not walk out of this place alive. He spun around and threw the photo as hard as he could. It hit the top of the desk, knocked a few sheets of dustcovered paper to the floor as it skidded across the once shiny

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surface and flew off the edge, clattering loudly as it struck the floor. His anger wasn’t sated and before he knew it, Henry was throwing books from the shelves. Thick tomes pounded the floor. The thought of the amount of noise he was creating didn’t even occur to him. He was swimming in a red zone, fear ruled his actions. Shoving three more tomes to join the rest at the base of the bookshelf, he noticed a white rectangular box sitting in a small cut out section of the bookshelf’s backboard. It instantly calmed him. His heavy breathing lessened and the sweat that glistened his forehead dried. Nearly every book was on the floor, surrounding his feet, a few on the toes of his shoes. Ignoring the mess, he pulled out the white box to discover it was a video case. On the video was a white sticker with: INT0234*1 of 1, printed neatly. An experiment? He pulled the old tape free of the cover, went to the dust covered TV/VCR unit and inserted the tape. The television screen came to life and a second later, Henry saw a small child, roughly five years old, standing in the cot. Ripped soft toys surrounded him. The boy was silent and stared at the camera. “Hi, Michael. Wave to the camera.” The boy didn’t respond. Henry watched as two lab technicians pulled down the side of the baby cot and using suction caps attached wires to the boy’s head, neck and chest. Michael started crying. Through the sobs, he mumbled, “Please, Daddy. No more. Please.” The doctor came on screen; only his back was visible as

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he approached the cot. He lovingly patted the boy’s hair, then kissed him on the cheek. “I’m sorry, Michael. You know I don’t want to do this. But we must.” “I don’t understand, Daddy.” The doctor hugged the boy and turned to face the camera. “Go to sleep, Michael. It’s better when you sleep.” His eyes were wet with tears. Green lines danced across the screens of two monitors set side by side, next to the cot. The doctor vanished behind the camera. One of the lab assistants raised the cot’s side and locked it into place. The boy curled into a fetal position on the cot’s small mattress. He was cramped in such a small place. Henry turned away from the video and went to the desk, continuing his search now that he had calmed down and the anger had finally run its course. The red zone had petered out. In the background he heard the boy’s quiet sobs. He sat on the seat behind the desk; it creaked under his weight. On the video, the boy looked asleep. At the bottom of the screen, unnoticed until now, a series of numbers rushed upwards in count. The desk he sat behind had a set of three drawers on each side and another long single drawer attached to the underside of the top. He opened the right side ones first. The top and middle held papers and notepads. He looked at a few but couldn’t make any sense of them. He tossed them to the floor.

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Worthless. Useless. The third drawer had six videos, all numbered like the one playing at this moment. But unlike the one on screen, these six all had a small notebook attached to them by a rubber band. He glanced at the television. It showed a sleeping child; the monitors next to the crib had steady jumping lines. The picture on the screen jumped, the counter had also jumped a few hours. The boy stirred in his sleep; his legs kicked the backboard a few times before he returned to a fetal position. The contents of the notebooks didn’t interest him. How could they help his escape? He was mildly interested in the video now. It had been hidden and as such, had to have something juicy on it and too valuable to destroy. He opened the top left hand drawer and found gold. A five shot revolver lay on top of a bulging fawn-colored folder. The folder had the name Michael inscribed in thick block letters across the face. Next to it was a half a packet of stale cigarettes. Ignoring the file, Henry picked up the revolver and held it tenderly in his hands. The revolver had a short barrel and when he clicked out the cylinder, he wasn’t surprised to find it empty of bullets. A quick rummage through the drawers produced no bullets. Shit. Only the drawer under the top of the desk was left. It was a pull-out drawer like a keyboard shelf on a computer table. He opened the drawer slowly. No bullets, but a set of keys smiled up at him. He counted eight keys; one was a car key and one other was a small locker key. The rest looked like ordinary, everyday door keys.

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He scooped them in his hands. A scream from the television grabbed his attention.

2

Baxter saw his team at a table set away from other agency workers and those white-coat scientists from the building next door. Most of the diners were solemn-faced and silent. Only his team was talking. They weren’t mourning the deaths from this morning, he knew that would come later. They were staying alert. He approached his team and their chatter stopped. John Dernaham was the best analyst Baxter had ever had the pleasure of working with. He was built tall like a pro basketball player with a solid build, who towered over everyone else and held no fear of holding a gun and working out in the field. Where Indians tracked their quarry by studying the ground, he consulted a computer and ran possibilities and decided which course of action to take. Probabilities reigned over guesswork. It was almost like he could smell Darkness. His accuracy was that great. Agent Shirley Wong, was an amazing agent also. She joined the F.A.D with a list of credits that truly impressed, and she’d proved herself time and again. Half Chinese / half New Zealander, she had attitude, strength and the ability to follow orders without question, no matter how demented they seemed at the time. And best of all, she never questioned Baxter’s

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actions. He knew nothing about the agents’ private lives except that they were all single. Their dedication to the job was second to none, and, like him, their personal life was on-hold because of one entity. One entity, like a virus, slowly spreading its vileness through humanity, passing an infection from one to the next, similar to how AIDS had started. Moving silently, going unnoticed until it finally had a grip on mankind and announced itself via news reports of the dead. Baxter figured Darkness was trying a similar thing here. He had no way of knowing with tight-lipped Henry, but he was positive of one thing: Dr. Hayden had screwed up and released a terrible thing on the public with insecure measures in place. Had he not considered the possibility it wanted to escape and it had waited for the opportunity. Now it was up to him and his team to destroy it. And by the grace of God, he was determined to do everything in his power to achieve that goal and he didn’t give a flying fuck what the doctor wanted. He could not allow Darkness to be recaptured. The risks were too great. The new kid, Whitfield, moved to the side, offering a space for Baxter on the bench-style seat. Taking the offered seat, Baxter turned his attention to the kid. “My apologies. I was overly harsh earlier, but please understand, I,” he cleared his throat and looked at each member in turn, “we,” he emphasized, “lost a close friend and member this morning. A replacement was expected...but so soon came as a bit of a shock.” Agent Whitfield kept his expression neutral and nodded his understanding. “No apology necessary, sir.”

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“What’s the plan?” Dernaham asked. Baxter stared at the table a few moments, gathering up his thoughts and feelings, which were a jumbled mess. “Tom?” Susan prodded. “I think something is going down today. In fact it may have already started.” “Henry told you this?” Susan asked. She folded her arms, her lips twisted into a frown. “You interrogated him?” Dernaham asked. He turned to Susan. “And you knew about this?” “He’d already finished by the time I found him.” “But this goes against—” “I know,” Baxter said loudly. He glanced at the other diners but no one seemed interested in his sudden outburst. Holding his hands up, he said, “I just asked a couple of questions. That’s all.” His gaze fell on Shirley Wong, she said nothing, just listened as usual. She was always quiet, muttering only a few words here and there and giving a report. She was a listener who seldom gave her opinion. “Gut instinct?” Dernaham asked. “Nothing solid,” Baxter admitted. “But we have nothing,” Susan said. She took a sip of her coffee, not once looking at him. “Henry won’t break, not now.” She put the coffee cup on the table but kept her hands wrapped around it. “Until we find something solid, we just sit on our hands. Is that what you’re saying?” Everyone was silent. A moment later, Shirley Wong said, “Did the temperature just drop?” She looked at around the table. “John, I think we should show young Whitfield here something.”

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Agent Dernaham nodded and stood up. “Show me what?” Whitfield enquired, sliding off the seat to join them. “Oh, I don’t know...The van’s tires, maybe.” She stood and grabbed the young agent’s hand. Suddenly he seemed to understand what she was getting at. “Oh yeah, need to check that tread depth is legal, right?” He smiled at Agent Baxter and then agent Temple. Still holding Shirley’s hand, he followed them out of the cafeteria. “Not that subtle,” Baxter said watching them leave. He turned to Susan and asked, “Agent Temple, are you pissed off with me?” She replied by staring at her coffee cup. “About Henry, is it?” He waited for a reply but none came. “Is it about the other night?” She gave him a hard look. “The other night, as you so eloquently put it, was three months ago.” “We mixed business with personal, can’t allow that. An error in my judgment. These things can clog our—” With a loud slap, Susan’s hand hit the table. A few white-coats turned to watch them. This was obviously more interesting than his outburst a few minutes ago. Slightly embarrassed, Baxter offered them a thin smile. He leaned forward on the table to keep their conversation private. “Do you remember?” Susan asked, keeping her voice low, almost a whisper. “I almost died.” Her eyes watered and she wiped a hand across them. “It left its host and came for me.” “How could I forget such a thing,” he whispered harshly. “I almost lost you.” Fighting like a madman, he pushed

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the memory back. The near loss of Susan and their lovemaking afterwards ... God, these were emotions he locked away and with good reason. “With such close calls, attachment is—” “Shut up. I don’t need any psychology bullshit.” She leaned back in her chair. Baxter tried to look away. He was very uncomfortable in this discussion and hated being on the spot like this. Why was she doing this now? Wouldn’t later be better? He looked at the table, desperately wanting to say: I didn’t want to lose you. But he wasn’t one of those guys who could say these things. He could never express himself in such a way. She was going to make him say it. He wasn’t blind, knew exactly how she felt about him. Unlike him, Susan didn’t hide her emotions, she was like a slave to them. Baxter had more control, even if he felt like a robot at times. The next few minutes were going to change the orderliness he had worked hard to maintain from the morning they awoke together. The atmosphere of the team was about to change. He needed an escape route, a way out of this that left everything neutral, they way it had been. Later he would deal with this. They both had to be at peak performance. “Is it possible to keep private...private?” “This is private. No one’s listening.” Her voice was soft, disappointment clouded her words. “I know you feel it,” she said. “Please, Tom, tell me I’m not imagining this.” Her eyes beseeched an answer. An answer he couldn’t give, though he desperately wanted to. And knowing this, he knew he could lose her. Susan opened her mouth to say something when Baxter’s cell phone rang.

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He flicked the phone open. “What is it?” Pause.. His forehead creased in thought. “Why do you think that?” Another pause. “How many heard it?” He nodded. “I know it’s too early for exact figures. In the ball park would be best.” Long pause. He flicked the phone shut. Susan looked at him expectantly. “You wanted a solid lead. We got one.” “What is it?” “A shooter going house to house, claiming he is cleansing an infection.” “Are you sure?” “Two survived a shoot out and apparently he was heard shouting his motives.” “Oh my God,” she muttered quickly getting to her feet.

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Chapter 10 1 Friday 1403 At a hurried pace, Dr. Hayden Taylor made his way along the hall to the front door. He opened them to a flood of bright light and saw the van, carrying the FAD team, roar away. Something was up and he was glad that Baxter and the others were on the ball. He heard the door thump shut behind him and headed to the next building. The back of the building faced the FAD. A cross bridge , a solid glass rectangle stretching between the two buildings, led to the cafeteria. Trudging across the grass, he headed around the side of the building. The front faced the road. There were no illusionary defenses in place here. They would be too hard to explain to outside folk, like delivery drivers, invited guests. Being this open was in fact a good disguise with the fake reception area. Two secretaries worked at facing desks. They didn’t know their job was a cover. There were also memos and reports to be typed and filed. What was the term he’d heard a lot recently? Ah, yes. Eye-candy. That was what these two attractive secretaries were for. From what he had heard, they were quite efficient as well. He strode past them with a curt nod and went straight to the elevator. The building was two levels high, and three levels deep.

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He pressed his card against the scanner. A blue light swept it cleanly and the doors swooshed open with a soft ‘ping’. Inside he pressed L2. The doors closed and a small ball lowered on a metal rod. Two panels opened on the ball, like eyelids opening to greet the day. A red light shone in the middle. “Step closer, please,” a robotic voice commanded. Dr. Hayden did as ordered. He knew the procedure but had to wait for each command. “Thank you. Please look into the light.” He did and the red light formed a vertical line. It swept across his eye quickly. “Thank you, Dr. Hayden Taylor. Moving to level 2 now.” He blinked the dryness away and rubbed his eye as it watered, wishing there was an easier way to perform this. So much security. Was it too much? All it took was one person to talk to the wrong person...he didn’t like that thought. If the unspeakable happened, the big bosses would be here before he could spit. Often he thought they were watching, and he couldn’t blame them; they had invested a lot of money. But he’d lost much more. So much more. Since the discovery of Darkness, they had been very interested in his work and the endless possibilities of using it for their own ends. Dr. Hayden didn’t want to even consider those ends. The eye scanning robot retracted into the panel above the elevator doors. Anyone with an ID barcode card could go up to the top level but no one could go down without an eye scan. Only certain ID’s activated the lower option buttons.

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The soft hum of the elevator descending filled the small box. It was a dull box at that; the walls were bare steel without carpeting—there were no lights either, but the ride was smooth and with a tech on the payroll, there wasn’t any need for outsiders to maintain its stability. The elevator stopped smoothly and the doors swooshed open, revealing a room alive with activity. Lab techs were hard at work, many on computer interfaces; others were in the process of running tests. Against the wall were glass rooms; one had cages filled with mice, others were filled with computers and generating machines, mixing machines and machines he’d never seen before but had found room in the budget to acquire. He looked for the room head, Steven Myers, and found him overseeing a project. Dr. Hayden waited behind the man, who was in deep conversation. He tapped the computer monitor with the blunt end of his pen. “Here. Here and,” tap, tap, “these two places.” He watched. “Okay, start up the refractor. Good.” Dr. Hayden didn’t want to wait any longer. He patted the man on the shoulder. “I’m busy,” he said without turning around. “I believed it was you who sent me the memo.” He spun around as if electrocuted. “Dr. Taylor,” he blurted. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize.” “That’s quite all right. What was so important it couldn’t wait?” “This,” Dr. Myers said and pointed to the screen. Dr. Hayden leaned forward, wishing he had brought his reading glasses. “What exactly am I looking for?” “Come, come,” Myers replied, wriggling his finger.

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He led Dr. Hayden up to the lookout room. A large room elevated off the floor with a full front and side window, allowed a view of every room and every station on L2. They climbed the metal steps leading to the door. Myers pressed his ID card against the scanner and waited for the green light to do its thing. Finally the door opened. Myers entered first. What could not be seen from the lower level were the security cameras monitoring every movement and recording it onto a DVD; an entire bank of computers, with wireless network links filled the room. There were four standard office-style chairs, but only one person worked here. Each computer monitor was embedded into the wall paneling of the workbench. The entire room sparkled. It was cleaner than the L2 working areas below and they were immaculate. “Look,” Myers said, taking the second chair at the furthest end of the long room. He started tapping at the keyboard and a few mouse clicks later, said, “This is what I wanted to show you.” On the monitor, a cute white mouse ran a race on his wheel. It was going very fast, the crossbars a blur of activity. “Don’t you notice anything?” Myers asked. Dr. Hayden looked closer. He checked every angle of the mouse, its features and the surrounding area. There was nothing remarkable at all. He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Dr. Myers, but I fail to notice anything unusual.” “How about this angle?” He tapped a few keys. A frontal view of the running mouse came into view. Using the arrow keys, he adjusted the camera’s angle and focus and zoomed in on the eyes.

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“Oh my goodness,” Dr. Hayden said staring at a pair of white orbs without a pupil. “Aren’t they usually pink?” “Yes.” Dr. Myers paused a moment, wrinkles creased his forehead below a horseshoe shaped hairstyle. “This mouse,” he said slowly, “was the mouse we tested earlier.” “It seems...fine.” “Yes. Doctor.” “Jesus, you’re not telling me that–” “This batch doesn’t work,” Myers interrupted. “But we believe we have found the reason for this failure and have literary stumbled upon a possible solution.” “A solution?” “Possible solution,” he corrected. “In fact, every test has showed positive.” Dr. Myers smiled proudly. “What are these new tests showing?” “Well,” Myers adjusted his tie. “That’s the thing. All computer tests from every perceivable angle and option show positive.” “But?” “But,” Myers started. He stopped, took a deep breath and said, “We are out of essence.” “I thought you had plenty.” “I’m sorry,” Dr. Myers said softly. “Until we perfect...” “You’ll get what you need.” Dr. Myers nodded.

2

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The screen sent a shiver dancing down Henry’s spine. It encased a pureness of agony that only children could express clearly. Unmasked by the need to be adult-like. The boy was standing on the mattress, his hands gripped the top rail of the cot. Tears streamed down his face, fat and heavy, they fell with speed, quickly followed by more that dropped directly to the floor. “Daddy, please...” the boy whispered. He held out his hands, beckoning the man behind the camera to come forth. The camera wobbled, looked as if it were about to topple down, then suddenly righted itself. “It hurts, Daddy.” The green lines on the monitors next to the cot jumped madly, spiking high, dropping low, no longer flat and calm. Henry stopped his search for bullets, his attention focused on the screen. “Daddy?” The pain in the boy’s innocent voice pulled at Henry’s emotions and tugged at his heart. He felt sick that such a thing had occurred, not only to the child but to the doctor’s own son. He wondered what kind of person could do such a thing. Henry wasn’t a good guy either, but he knew where to draw the line. This fucker of a doctor didn’t. With no answer from the man behind the camera, the boy dropped down onto the mattress and crossed his legs. His crying continued. At times, he rubbed his temples but his gaze was fixed continuously on the camera. The tormented look of a confused child. “Daddy? Why no come help me? What Michael do wrong?” No answer.

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The boy rubbed his eyes, his tears finally drying up, the reservoir drained. His heaving chest slowed and the green lines on the monitors stopped looking like seismic activity of a full blown earthquake. For a while, nothing happened on the screen, so Henry, more determined than ever to find bullets, continued his search. The desk was a dead-end, so he rose from the chair and approached the filing cabinets against the back wall. The drawer was heavy and dragged on runners. It was filled with brown folders; each had a series of numbers and subject references written in bold black marker pen. He pulled a few folders open; each jam-packed with loose paper, some typed, some handwritten. He slammed the drawer shut and expecting the second to be the same, he yanked it hard. The drawer flew open and slammed into his knee. “Fuck!” He kicked out in anger. The drawer flew in, slammed the rear stoppers, and rolled back to him slowly, having lost most of its velocity. Henry took a step back as it returned and peered into what he thought was an empty drawer and discovered a bulging black diary, the kind businessmen use to record appointments, only this one had folded paper sticking out of it. Taking it from the drawer, Henry unlatched the thick strap holding the covers together. On the inside cover in a plastic sleeve was a photo, similar to the one he’d found earlier, only this time the photo was clearly taken at a park. Behind the woman and child were an assortment of kiddy amusements and blurred people. The next few pages were filled with appointments, markings and notes on things he didn’t understand.

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Nearing the back of the diary, he found a newspaper clipping. Unfolding it, the headline jumped at him: COLLISION TAKES TWO. “Why Daddy stay over there? Not come help Michael?” He glanced at the screen. That didn’t sound like a kid’s voice at all. It was flat, deeper and devoid of emotion. The kid remained cross legged on the mattress, his back rested on the flimsy side that didn’t look strong enough to support his weight. His head hung low and his hands rested on his knees. Pulling his eyes from the screen, Henry read part of the article. As he did so, he recalled this on the news a long time ago. Two cars collided head on, bodies thrown through windscreens, engines pushed through dashboards, followed by a huge explosion, with a shockwave that took out windows of neighboring houses. Amazingly, there was a survivor. A child. A boy. Could it be the same kid? What was the likelihood of that? About a zillion to one. There were several more articles in the back of the diary. A quick glance showed they weren’t any use to him and he haphazardly tossed it over his shoulder to the floor and came to the conclusion he wouldn’t find a single bullet in this room. That made the handgun useless—except as a bluff. Time to get the fuck out of here. Henry scooped up the keys and headed to the door, while checking each key, hoping one would work. Without considering it, his eyes moved to the screen. That tape ... A devious smile graced his lips. A bargaining tool was available and it carried the possibility of cold hard currency with it.

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With a bit of luck and the right words, he could walk right out of here. After that, it shouldn’t be too hard to find his friend, Darkness. First, he’d have to meet up with Debbie, she should know where he was; and if that failed, he’d hang around the town square with his fingers crossed. Moving to the VCR, Henry was about to push the stop button and eject the tape when he heard... “Fuck you, Father.” That wasn’t a kid’s voice at all and it carried an underlying tone which was vaguely familiar. Sonic vibrations that cause Henry to look up at the screen. The monitor’s green lines were going crazy again. Slowly the camera zoomed in until only the boy’s upper body was visible. His head still hung low. The eyelids flickered, then snapped open. A moment later, the kid raised his head and stared at the camera with eyes as black as coal.

3 Dr. Hayden Taylor didn’t hurry as he walked down the hall. Without looking, he turned down the corridor and walked up the flight of stairs. He reached the main guest hall, entered the room, and then went to a door at the far end, near large windows that looked out onto the main lawn. From here he could see over the illusionary defenses installed. There was no movement outside. He searched his pockets for his set of keys and remembered they were in the desk drawer. At the desk, he opened the top drawer and automatically his hand felt around

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for both a set of keys and a capped syringe. Both of which he found quickly. He kept an ample supply in the drawers. It hadn’t been that long ago, he’d been forced to enter that room for another tube of essence. How could those scientists waste so much, so easily? It wasn’t an endless supply. If they knew the essence came from the rotting corpse of his son, would they take more care in how they used it? It tore his heart each time he went down there. He prayed Dr. Myers’ new formula worked, then he could take time off and have a proper burial for his son. In his mind, his son was already with the angels. Only the shell remained. At times, it was hard to remind himself that the essence came from a shell only. His son wasn’t there anymore. But he saw the angelic features and beautiful eyes, and not the rotted peeling skin nor exposed bone and sunken eye sockets. He saw Michael as he remembered him. Sighing deeply, he went to the door and unlocked it. A number of steps ran down into the dark hallway below. He turned on the light, waited for the harsh fluorescent bulb to stop flickering and with syringe in hand, he headed down to the worst part of his job. At the bottom of the stairs, he strode purposefully along the short hallway and rounded the corner. He looked back. The way it had been constructed, the corner made the hallway seem non-existent and vanish, creating a wall-like impression of a dead-end. The design always impressed him. If one didn’t know it was there, one would use the elevator or second flight of stairs. This was his private entrance from his private meeting room; no one knew of it.

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Passing the elevator and stairs that lead up to the main hall, he pulled out the key to unlock the door where Michael waited. 4 Shocked, Henry stumbled backwards, forced to stop when his hip struck the corner of a lab table. What he was seeing couldn’t be real. Yet it was. The tape was too plain, too scientific. Darkness as a child. How could a young boy advance its plans? “Michael, I want you to take a deep breath.” The kid smiled. “Michael, did you hear me?” Desperation coated the voice. A willingness not to believe. A hope, a dream that the black eyes were just an illusion. It covered the true meaning of his words, thick as a blanket. The smile remained. From behind the camera, a long sigh breezed through the television speakers. “Darkness?” The kid smiled. “Hello Father.” The camera zoomed out. It showed the monitor’s green lines, flat and even. “Why do you persist in calling me such a silly name?” Darkness asked. No reply. “Father?” “Why do you insist on calling me Father?” “From you I have learned everything. It is what you are to me.”

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“Therefore, Darkness is what you are for me.” The kid’s head lolled back and he stared at the ceiling. “I am growing tired of this place.” He took a long slow breath. “It is time for me to leave.” “Can’t let you leave.” Henry could sense a storm bubbling under the boy’s skin upon seeing the young kid’s lips start twitching. “This strange timeline and world was ... confusing at first.” His voice remained calm. “But now I understand it.” He smiled. “The Elders could not stop me, not forever.” “Ah, the warlocks, again.” “You could never understand.” “Then tell me about them, help me to understand.” Darkness sighed. For a long while he was silent, staring at the camera. “I want Michael back,” Dr. Hayden said. “This body is alive because I am here!” Darkness boomed. He looked at the monitors. “Flat line,” he said with a smile. The screen went blank. “That’s your friend.” Henry spun to face the door and saw the doctor leaning against the jamb. Light from behind him silhouetted his form, darkening his features, until he stepped into the room. His eyes were red and a couple of tears spilled forth. He dabbed at them with a handkerchief. In his free hand was a thin remote control unit and an uncapped syringe. Thinking fast, Henry raised the handgun and aimed at the doctor’s head. “Please,” Dr. Hayden said, as if tired of the whole thing.

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He moved to the closest lab table, two rows away from Henry. “That’s a cigarette lighter.” Henry pulled the trigger and a small flame shot from the barrel. It died quickly. “Fuck,” he spat, throwing it to the floor.

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Chapter 11 1 Friday 1413 Christopher Ball sat in his office, behind his big desk and in his comfortable chair, feeling at ease. This location, the security on the ground floor and this body were the safest he’d found. There was a surge in him; plans made would be set in motion before tomorrow’s dawn. His virus would reign and spread like a fire, infecting and modifying. Yes, it would modify, he realized, different people, different mind-sets, strengths and weaknesses. The darkness would evolve, it was only to be expected, all viruses and infections evolved with time. His would be no different. He got off the chair and went to the window. Below, the streets teemed with people of varying races, lifestyles, jobs, hopes and dreams; all of them rushing through life. They were animals, cattle for harvesting and soon, they’d be an army. A double bang of revenge against the ‘Elders’. There was a knock on the door. “Come.” Scott Trumble entered. His dark hair was set perfectly and his suit was just as perfect. “You wanted to see me, sir?” His outward appearance was calm and relaxed, but a hint of jumping nerves was present in his voice.

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Darkness had forgotten he’d sent for the area consultants. “Scott, glad you found the time to see me.” Darkness extended his hand. Words and actions used so often by Christopher Ball were automatic responses. After a firm hand shake, he led Scott to the chair opposite the desk. Once Scott was seated, Darkness sat on the edge of his desk. “I’ve been keeping a close eye on your performance over the past few months,” he said. Scott suddenly looked nervous. He swallowed hard. “Yes, sir.” Darkness beamed a huge smile. It didn’t seem to relax the area consultant in the slightest. “I’m overly pleased with your performance.” Scott suddenly blushed. “Umm, thank you, sir.” “You thought no one was watching, right?” He waited for Scott to nod before getting off his desk and walking slowly back to the window with his hands clasped behind his back. He said nothing, just stared out the window, giving the impression he was thinking. A full minute passed, before speaking from the chair, Scott asked, “Will that be all, sir?” “Look at all these people down there. They rush left, right and center. No real direction.” He turned to face Scott. “Do you have direction, son?” Seeming to give this a bit of thought, the area consultant answered, “I believe so, sir. My drive, my ambition is fully directed with this company.” Darkness nodded. “Stand with me a moment.” With Scott as his side, Darkness put his arm gently on

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his shoulder and pinched a nerve. Scott’s body went limp, facial muscles relaxed and arms dangled at his side. He lifted Scott’s eyelids and licked the eyeball, taking his time, his tongue slid across the marble-like smooth surface. The ball moved back slightly from the pressure of the rough massaging muscle. Darkness swallowed a build up of phlegm coated with the tangy taste of the eyeball. Satisfied, he moved to the remaining eye. Job completed, he took a step back and released the nerve lock. Immediately, Scott’s hands went to the side of his head and rubbed the temples vigorously. Black orbs stared at him. “I’ve given you a promotion, Scott.” No reaction. “Consider it a gift.” Darkness waited patiently. He watched the blackness fight off the color and gain control. A blackness so deep and pure, it was beautiful. “Scott?” “Yes, sir?” “I want you to head to our main office in Auckland.” “Yes, sir.” “And talk to everyone there, if you get my drift. I’ve given you something that must be passed on. Understand?” Scott nodded. His thumb and pinky finger started playing with his wedding ring. He didn’t seem to notice. “I didn’t realize you were married,” Darkness said. “Two years, sir.” “Kids?” “Not yet.”

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“Pity. Give the gift to your lovely wife and take her with you.” Darkness smiled, Scott seemed unimpressed. His face blank of emotion. “And get some sunglasses.” “I understand, sir.” Darkness nodded. “This is a good thing, Scott.” “Yes, sir.” “That’ll be all.” “Should I leave right away, sir?” “Yes, I’ll let them know you’re coming.” He watched Scott leave, and turned his attention back to the window. Darkness saw Nina head straight for the front doors. Her hair was cut and restyled just as he had asked, but she was also dressed in a white suit. Similar to his. This cemented her connection with him. She was the one. And she was more beautiful now than this morning. He watched, unmoving, until she passed through the main doors, and saw a guard turn and watch her from behind. There was a knock on the door; it opened immediately, before Darkness had a chance to allow entry. Young Frazer Blake, the area consultant for Wellington East, entered. Barely twenty-six, he had proved his ability to coordinate and manage his sector efficiently. He was stick thin with bushy curly hair and thick glasses. Darkness had toyed with Scott Trumble and now Nina was headed here; the time for games was over. “Welcome, Frazer,” he said. “You wanted to see me, Mr. Ball?” They shook hands, firmly. Darkness didn’t release Frazer’s hand. “Sir?”

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“Never mind. You just got promoted.” Frazer smiled. “Thank you, sir.” With his free hand, Darkness, back-handed him across the face, knocking the thick glasses to the floor. Still using his free hand, he grabbed the struggling boy by the hair and pulled him face to face. Shocked, Frazer’s eyes were squeezed shut. His body trembled as he tried to push away. “Open your eyes like a man,” Darkness ordered and released the grip on his hand but remained holding the hair taut. Frazer didn’t comply with the demand, so, forced to do it himself, he did it roughly and pulled the eyelids as wide as they could open. The exposed eyeball wouldn’t stay still; the iris swept left, right and center. He saw it trying to focus on something but not able to. I’ll give him something to look at, Darkness thought and leaned in, licking his lips. 2 Nina rode the elevator to the top floor. It pinged on arrival and stopped. The doors swooshed open. She looked toward Christopher’s office, wondering if the bitch secretary was going to give her a hard time. Without an appointment, it seemed almost impossible to see Mr. Ball. She glared down the opposite end of the hallway. Close to the elevators she saw a sign indicating the location of the nearest toilets and further down a set of doors opened onto other offices and the boardroom. For those with appointments, the staff at the reception desk just to her left announced

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arrivals. Strangely no one manned the desk. Other times she’d been up here, people she barely knew walked around, making photocopies, getting coffee or talking at the water cooler. Constantly, throughout the day, radio music played softly in the background. The silence and emptiness of mid-afternoon business confused her. This place should have been a hive of activity. In one of the offices down the hall, a phone rang. On the third ring it stopped. This started the activity again like a starting gun. Looking in the direction of the phone, she saw a bathroom door open. She heard a soft a click as the tape automatically looped to the other side and Madonna filled the silence. She hurried to Christopher’s office, fearful of the secretary’s return and the bitch’s attempts to halt her. Behind, in the hallway, office doors opened and closed. A pair of mumbling voices came down the hall. Reaching the office, she knocked softly. “Enter.” She pushed the door open. Christopher stood near the window and next to him was an area consultant she’d seen around the building many times but she didn’t know his name. “Do you understand what I’ve asked you to do?” her boss asked the consultant. “Yes, sir,” he replied and turned to leave. Eyes of the blackest coal stared at her from behind thick glasses. Nina watched him leave; he gave her a curt nod as he walked backwards, closing the door as he went like a butler from countless British movies. “It’s good to see you,” Christopher said, snagging her

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attention. “What’s happened to me?” Nina wasn’t usually this direct and the words surprised her. They sounded hard and demanding. Trying to right the wrong, she said more calmly, “I killed my hairdresser.” “She did a wonderful job.” “He did a wonderful job,” she corrected. “And then, I licked the eyes of some K-Mart lady.” She watched him closely for a sign, any sign, which would give her a clue as to the thoughts running through his head. His face was relaxed of emotion and his eyes showed nothing. “This morning you did something to me.” “The K-Mart lady was because of you?” he asked. Ignoring the question, she boldly strode to her boss and stood toe-to-toe facing him. She looked up into his eyes and said, “What happened this morning?” “Don’t you remember?” His eyes searched hers Nina took a step back from him. “You said your name wasn’t Christopher. Said it was Darkness.” “Correct. That name was given to me by Father.” “How many others are like me?” “Only a few at the moment. Until now, I’ve taken things easily, keeping a low profile. But, I have a feeling the time has finally arrived to show myself.” He turned to look out the window. “Very soon, there’ll be more like us.” Keeping his view outside the window, he said, “I want you to be at my side when it happens.” The words hit Nina like lightning. Her nerves tingled and her mouth dropped open. She was shocked and extremely happy.

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“The choice is yours,” he said, turning from the window. Gently he placed his hands on her shoulders. “You need to make an informed decision, if you are to be at my side. I need you to know about me. The who and the why.” “Informed?” she queried. She already had an answer for him. He wasn’t the real Christopher, but suddenly that didn’t matter. This one had the guts to say what he wanted and not fear any reaction. He was stronger than the real Christopher. She liked that. Her answer was going to be a solid ‘Yes’, regardless of what he told her. “I was born in a time of magic and Elders many years before the existence of your Lord. Perhaps three hundred score or more. My name was Darian, son of Arthur the farmer.”

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Chapter 12 1 Friday 14:15

“How did you get in here?” he asked, putting the remote in his pants pocket. Backing away from the doctor, Henry slid along the wall. Witnessing the actions on the tape, he knew he faced a dangerous man. Dr. Taylor looked to the far wall near the cot and saw the hole. “How did you know?” Henry figured he meant this room. “I didn’t.” He saw the syringe in the doctor’s hand. It was a worrying sight after the images he had witnessed on the tape. At the side wall he stopped unable to get further until the doctor moved, freeing an escape route through the open door. “Your agent started that hole...with my head.” “I see.” Dr. Taylor nodded slowly. He squinted and his free hand rubbed his chin, deep in thought. After a moment, he said, “That was your friend on the tape.” Henry didn’t reply. He stared at the doctor trying to will him away from the table, giving access to the door. His eyes dropped on the syringe, which was gripped in the doctor’s hand like a knife. The long needle seemed to glisten in the over-head lights. “Oh, don’t worry about this,” the doctor said. “It isn’t

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for you.” “Who’s it for?” Henry asked. Without answering, Dr. Taylor walked to the side of the table—closer to the door. “That tape is roughly a year old. It was taken the night of his escape.” Not moving, Henry watched the doctor closely. “You understand he’s not coming for you, don’t you? You are nothing to him. Darkness won’t return for you, son. He can’t ever return here.” The doctor leaned against the table, his posture relaxed, almost like a history teacher delivering a lecture for the thousandth time. He put the syringe on the table. From his pants pocket he removed the remote control. “Not yet at least,” he added. “The last option anyone takes is to return home.” Home? That got his attention. “This is the first place Darkness arrived. He arrived at the time of a...of a terrible accident.” Henry remembered the newspaper article he’d found. “That was the day my son died. The child on the tape you watched, may have looked and acted like my boy, but it wasn’t him. That son of a bitch...” He took a breath. “The child looked fine, didn’t he?” It wasn’t really a question. “He’d been inside my son for three years.” He pointed the remote at the screen, pressed play and hit the fast forward button. “This is how he escaped.” Watching the frame speed forward, the doctor added, “You can leave after this, if you wish. I hope you do not return to him. If you do...you may die.” Dr. Taylor had a relaxed and friendly tone to his voice like a grandfather explaining a simple fact to a small child. It made it hard for Henry to hate him, even after watching the

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video. The images were still fresh in his mind; the child crying, begging for his father’s help. “You’re Father?” Henry asked, though he’d already guessed the answer. The doctor looked at him, clearly surprised by the question. He cleared his throat. “Darkness took to calling me that because of my bond with my son.” Dr. Taylor’s eyes blinked rapidly as if too many memories were resurfacing, too much emotion held at bay finally breaking through a self-erected barrier. The doctor’s composure changed from a professor giving a lecture—the grandfather image vanished with it—to that of a man beaten down by the harshness of life. “I was Father,” the doctor suddenly continued, when Henry thought no more was coming, “in the sense that I was his teacher—in a way.” He pressed the ‘play’ button, stopping the rapid forwarding of the tape. The counter on the bottom of the screen showed an hour and twenty-three minutes had passed. The child was still sitting cross-legged on the mattress, his back resting against the cot’s frame. Eyes, the color of coal. “He did this most every night. Always said it was time to leave. He never bothered trying until...here it is. Watch.” On the screen, two scientists approached the child. One carried a syringe and the other had one of those thingies doctors use to read blood pressure. On the tape, the boy with the coal black eyes smiled. “This is new,” he said. 2

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Seeing this again brought the memories flooding back full force, to Dr. Taylor, producing a typhoon of whispers and images, heard and glimpsed briefly. Echoes bouncing off walls, blindly swirling around his head. Through the madness of sounds, one solitary word, clear and loud, made its way to him. Stomping on the whispers and swirling white-noise...Father. Images slowed and the whispers caught up. The room changed before his eyes. The bookshelf blurred in and out of focus, until the shelves were once again filled with fat plastic folders and even fatter textbooks. Henry had vanished and the television was blank. He was vaguely aware of the real world. The lab tables were cluttered. Note-pads with crudely scribbled equations were near the edge of the table; Dr. Taylor stood next to it. A centrifuge sat on the next table, its large top open and waiting for a tube or two of blood. A foam cased container next to it contained empty tubes. He remembered the formula. They had set out to cleanse Darkness from his son’s body. Unfortunately Darkness escaped. Fearing a large out-break, the building next door converted a sub-level into several rooms and started working on a formula to combat a virus of massive proportions. When Darkness exited his son, it had left a residue in its wake. After having discovered it, it was used for tests and trials and Hayden was ordered not to bury his son. There were those higher up the ladder than him with military applications in mind. Looking toward the bathroom where his son would

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soon be held, Dr. Taylor felt emotion grip his heart like a vice and squeeze. The only way he could possibly get over this was with the burial of his son. That would make it final and he could heal and remember only the happy times. Times they played at the park. Times they–John-Henry walked through Hayden, giving him quite a start until he remembered he wasn’t really here. John-Henry, his assistant. Flip the coin. Henry John Buffalo, Darkness’s assistant, slash, protector. Just a coincidence, or something more? His assistant grabbed the case filled with tubes and carried them to a table next to the cot—it was a cheap fold-out table that had proved itself quite handy. The table wasn’t in the camera’s view. He saw himself sitting behind the old style video camera, the kind that held full sized video tapes. Hayden preferred these to the later models with small tapes; converting them was a pointless exercise he didn’t want to waste time doing. Eddie Watcher, his second assistant checked the sphygmomanometer. He squeezed the ball that inflated the sleeve, then released it. Hayden saw himself stand up and stretch. Darkness had threatened to leave many times. No one thought it would happen. They weren’t ready for it. The two assistants approached the boy in the cot. He watched them closely. “This is new,” he said. Eddie wrapped the Velcro strap around the boy’s thin arm. “What’s this?”

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“It measures your blood pressure,” Eddie answered. Darkness looked over Eddie’s shoulder at the other machines next to the cot. “Don’t they do the same thing?” He’s learning something new, Hayden thought. All this time, we thought he was playing with us, but he wasn’t. He was really learning. Eddie pumped air into the sleeve. Darkness stared at it, amused. His free hand traced the swelling veins on his arm. He looked up as John-Henry gently pushed his arm away and inserted the syringe. “What are you doing?” “Just hold still a moment,” John-Henry said. He expertly removed the glass tube and inserted a second one, quickly and easily. It filled up slower than the first. “Stop it,” Darkness demanded. “One more then we’re done.” Tilting so he could see either Dr. Taylor or the camera, perhaps both, Darkness said, “Why do you take this boy’s life force?” “To test your blood.” “Why? It belongs to your son.” His eyes fluttered shut. A moment later they snapped open, just as John-Henry replaced the second tube with a third. “Say good-bye to your son, Father.” Hayden felt the grip on his heart again as he had that night. He looked over at his old self sitting quietly behind the camera, not thinking anything was going to happen—just like countless nights before. He knew what was coming and he tried to look away but failed. His point of focus returned to the cot.

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Darkness closed his eyes. Slowly his mouth dropped open. A substance, as black and as thick as tattooing ink, spewed forth, and swirled around the assistants. The sound of a thousand insects filled the room as the black ink-like substance seemed to gain speed, circling them. Eddie stumbled away, but that only attracted the stuff. It gathered together in a circle like a beach ball and focused on the assistant. It wavered before his eyes, swelling until the ink looked stretched tight. The sound of insects stopped dead. The ball moved in close to his face and exploded. Instantly, Eddie’s body went limp. His eyes closed and a moment later, they reopened—black as coal. He smiled at the camera...he smiled at Dr. Taylor, who’d immediately jumped to his feet, knocking the camera tripod. It wobbled but did not fall. “Michael?” Dr. Taylor muttered. He was looking past Eddie to his son lying limp on the cot; one arm dangled off the side. His face was slack. John-Henry stumbled, dropping the syringe. The glass tube shattered, blotching the floor with a thick deluge of dark crimson blood. The loud sound in the closed space, grabbed the attention of Darkness, now inside Eddie’s body. Without a second’s hesitation, he lunged at John-Henry, grabbed his hair, forcing the head sideways, exposing the neck. He bit down hard on the pulsing vein, ripped through the flesh. His head shook, tearing the skin, severing the vein. A fountain of life essence splattered his face, struck his mouth and ran over his lips. An arch of blood shot into the air, widened like a fan and rained down on them. Skin dropped to

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the floor like shaved ham. John-Henry’s hand swept the table as he tried to regain lost balance and fleeting energy. He was struggling to remain alert as his hand found a syringe still wrapped in plastic. Gripping it tightly, he feebly swung it at Darkness, who countered the strike and snatched the weapon from him. “You should have known better than that, J.H.” Darkness shook his head as if he were admonishing a child, showing his disappointment. The syringe twisted around his fingers as he manipulated it into the base of his fist. Still shaking his head, he pulled back, took aim and slammed it into the right eye of John-Henry, finally getting a scream from the man. His hands thrashed wildly, trying to grip the arm holding the syringe. Darkness pushed it deeper, driving it into the brain. The assistant’s body fell limp but Darkness held him up, cradling his head in his arm and pushing the syringe as far as it could go. He released the body. It hit the floor; only the plunger was visible inside the eye socket. “My...God,” Dr. Taylor began. His arms were limp at his side, eyes wide. Next to the case holding the glass tubes filled with blood, Darkness spied a scalpel. The blade was covered by the silver edge of the case. He grabbed the handle and pulled it free. Behind, he heard the footsteps of Father approaching. He spun on his heel to face the doctor, they were inches apart. “Goodbye, Father,” Darkness said and drove the scalpel into the round stomach. Dr. Taylor’s face contorted in pain. His hands went to

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the scalpel automatically. Darkness allowed it. Dr. Taylor pulled it free and it clattered loudly on the floor. “Maybe we’ll meet again, Father,” Darkness said and casually walked out of the room. Dr. Taylor dropped to his knees and crawled his way slowly to his son. The open end of the cot was low enough for him to lean across and administer a farewell kiss on his son’s cheek. The skin was ice-cold. His vision blurred as unconsciousness closed his senses and took him into a void of black. He awoke with a start. Concerned faces looked down at him. Medical personnel gathered around as Hayden Taylor’s thoughts became coherent. Struggling to his feet he managed to reach the alarm and send out the dogs. 3 The memory broke and Hayden Taylor found himself alone in the room. His body trembled and his palms were sweaty. Henry was gone. He realized that Henry wouldn’t have seen any of what Darkness had done except for taking control of Eddie’s body. The struggles and screams were audible, but it didn’t show the violent streak of Darkness. He walked slowly to the desk and sat down on the creaky swirl chair and stared at the cot. He would give Henry a thirty minute lead time before he raised the alarm. Using his cell phone, he ordered security to disappear and allowed Henry to think he had escaped. The doctor’s hope was that the boy,

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thinking he was free, would lead them directly to Darkness. Barking orders quickly into the phone, he made his way to the elevator.

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Book Two Chapter 13 1 Friday 14:16 Darkness led Nina to the chair opposite his desk. When he looked at her, thoughts of his previous wife returned. The connection to Nina was powerful, pulling him toward her. It reminded him of the attraction he had first felt, when, as Darian, he met his first wife and bearer of his son, Fredrick. He was mildly surprised to have these feelings, thinking they were long dead and all he had really wanted was the relief sex provided. But, Christopher Ball had wanted this woman and he could clearly see why. Not only was she beautiful, there was also a connection, perhaps a pheromone that drew him and others to her? Until recently, his thoughts were consumed with another, but in his old body, conceiving a son was impossible. Baxter had cured him of that body and burden early this morning. The discovery and attack was like a blessing in disguise. A son. It was the only thing in this world he wanted

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back. His son. Darkness sat on the edge of the desk, eyes locked with Nina’s. She waited patiently, hands on her knees, looking innocent and pure, reminding him of the past; refreshing every detail and making it crystal clear: his small farm; the Elder’s guards; the murder of his wife and son. The ensuing war. Elder’s whips; heavy chains; the ocean. His revenge. He remembered every painful moment of the ancient days as if he were watching a live re-enactment. “My goals,” he said, “have not changed since those days long ago.” He took a breath to lose the memories. “Only the means have changed.” “Your goals—” Darkness held up a hand. “Wait, everything will be explained.” This would be the first and only time he would ever tell his story... 2 Finishing his tale, he leaned against the window, not realizing he’d moved until this moment. He wanted something to break the sudden silence, but didn’t know what to say and he felt he’d spoken enough in the last twenty minutes. With eyes as black as coal, Nina got off her seat and walked up to him. Standing on tiptoe, she leaned forward and kissed him hard on the mouth. A moment later, she took a step back and slowly undid her blouse. It slipped off her slender shoulders and dropped to the floor.

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“The Elders are long gone,” she said, unhooking her bra. “There is no magic in the world anymore.”Nina unhooked Reggie’s white trousers. They were a little big and easily dropped to her ankles. A second later, her panties followed. Staring at her nakedness, Darkness said, “The seed will take. Are you prepared for that?” “To bear your son?” Darkness nodded. Nina smiled. “Yes, Darian Farmer. I am prepared.”

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Chapter 14 1 Friday 1450

Thomas heard the sirens. He’d stopped going door to door and had run down the street, shotgun hidden under his coat. He was a few streets away before choosing houses at random. It would be great if he could enlist the help of others, but he knew no one would believe him; how could they? It was a crazy-assed story. If he hadn’t experience it, he wouldn’t have believed it. The sirens grew louder. They sounded like electric guitars screaming inside his head, ‘We’re coming for you!’ His last cleansing had been fifteen doors down; a lovely family— wife, husband, small baby. He saved them and yet the sirens grew louder, the screaming more insistent. He couldn’t let his job end yet, there was so much left. More and more cleansing was needed before he’d let the bastards get him. He had to be sure enough people were saved from the infection. Thoughts of Beth brought sadness to his heart. He should’ve hunted her down. In hindsight his actions were foolish-–should have stopped the infection at the source. It didn’t matter that she’d vanished, he still should have gone looking for her. Beth wouldn’t be hard to find. “Should’ve, should’ve, should’ve,” he whispered and thumped his head. He was a number one idiot. His boss was correct this morning just before he got fired: You don’t think

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about the future. Never consider the outcome. Going to have to let you go, Thomas. You just don’t think things through, never consider alternatives. But sir, I’ve been with you for fifteen years. We’re Sorry, Thomas. Motherfucker. “Stop it,” he told himself. “Past is past.” He had to focus on his new path in life. The path of a cleanser. Being out in the open like this was not good. He had to lay low for a short time. The cops would have his description by now. He had to be extra careful. Thomas turned up the next driveway and strode to the front door of a small brick house with a narrow garden against the walls. An old station wagon sat in the driveway, it was polished but had a few dents in the side. Standing on the worn welcome mat, he pressed the doorbell. From inside the house a faint melody of, ‘She’ll be coming around the mountain’ could be heard. The tune ended... The shrieking sirens grew closer... Sweat dotted his forehead. He was about to press the bell again and then kick the door open, when it suddenly opened on a small chain. An elderly lady peered through the gap at him. Her face was deeply lined and eyes were a mix of blue and gray. “Can I help you?” she asked. The sirens were almost upon him. Thomas smiled. “You sure can.” He raised his leg slowly so the old woman would have time to move back before he kicked the door free of the flimsily chain. He never

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considered the fact that she could just as easily close the door. But she didn’t. The reaction he wanted was the one she provided by stumbling back in shock. A short scream escaped her as the door flew open. The chain was strong but not the connector. It flew out of the jamb and banged against the back of the door. Paying her no attention, Thomas closed the door halfway and checked the street for watching eyes. He noticed nothing; not a single curtain fluttered from houses across the street. The whirl of police sirens suddenly stopped. The final screech slowly winding down. Keeping the door open, he waited. Three cruisers passed the driveway, slowed at the corner. One stopped. Parked. The other two continued on, silently moving down the street and out of sight. The S.A.S would arrive shortly. “Please leave my house this instant, mister,” the old lady said. Her voice shook, yet she stood her ground. “Leave now, before I call the police.” He turned from the door to her, opening his long coat as he did, exposing the shotgun. She fell back against the wall; her hands went straight to her mouth. “Oh my ...” “Cops are outside. Give ’em a holler. It’s me they’re looking for. Go on, tell ’em I’m here. They’ll thank your corpse for it.” He watched fear creep across her wrinkled skin like a growing shadow. Taking a step back, he gestured to the open door. “Go on,” he said. She didn’t move. “Thought not.” He closed the door and engaged the lock. “Please Jesus,” she muttered, eyes watering. A few tears

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escaped and bumped down her cheeks. Thomas ignored her and headed into the living room. It was elegantly decorated, completely different from the impression he gathered from outside. He wasn’t sure what he expected when he came up the driveway but he didn’t expect oil paintings hung straight on the wall. There was a flower patterned sofa with matching EZY chairs and curtains. A large screen television nestled in the corner with a VCR/DVD player on top and next to it a stack of cartoon DVDs aimed at young children. The carpet was soft and fluffy. A few photos in frames sat on a small bookcase, stocked with Reader’s Digest Condensed novels. The old lady stood at the entrance to the living room watching him. “I don’t have much money.” Bullshit, he thought. You just hide it well. He reached over the sofa and pulled the curtains half shut. Looking her in the eyes, he said, “Not interested in your money.” Her hands instinctively went to the buttons of her blouse, then crossed over her breasts. Thomas’s face scrunched up in disgust. “Not interested in that either,” he said coldly. “Sit down.” He waited for her to be seated before going to the EZY chair opposite. He turned it from facing the television to facing her and the half open curtains. She stared at him coldly, fear mixed with anger producing hatred, giving her some composure in a situation she never expected to experience. “Perhaps you think I’m crazy?” He waited a few seconds for a response that never came, not that he expected

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one. He unhooked the shotgun easily and gently, like a loving father with a new born child, he laid it across his lap as he sat down. In his head, Thomas ran though his options. They were very limited. “Why are you doing this to me?” “Doing what?” he asked. “This!” she screamed, throwing her arms up in the air. Keeping his voice calm, Thomas said, “You are too old for the Devil’s gift. Your age makes you safe. You can relax, you have nothing to fear from me.” She stood up. He pumped a round into the shotgun’s chamber. “If you disobey me, I will have no option but to dispose of you.” He pointed the weapon at her. “I am on a mission to cleanse an evil unlike anything seen or heard of before. My wife...” He swallowed hard. Love for his wife filled his chest; she’d been his whole world since high school. He could never have imagined a life without her, yet he was living it now. Thinking of her caused a real ache in his chest. He breathed deeply, letting the pain dissolve. The old lady, visibly fearful of the shotgun and more so, the man holding it, sat back down on the sofa. “Somehow,” he continued, “she got infected. She’s the one who called it a gift. I called it ‘the Devil’s gift’. There was a moment after she passed it on to me where I wasn’t here or there. Images...God, the things I saw during the transformation was...Jesus...black eyes, a world of black eyes. I don’t mean the iris; I’m talking about the whole eye. And creatures-– demons, a black gate in a world filled with red. Yet my eyes were blue. I

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am the opposite of them, I am the cleanser.” He was getting upset again, the calmness leaving his body. His finger stroked the shotgun’s trigger. The look the old lady gave him wasn’t helping. “I repeat my original question: You think I’m crazy, don’t you?” “Confused, maybe,” she said softly. Movement outside, behind the curtain caught his attention. The police were moving in. Through the gap he saw cops across the street, carefully approaching the front door, hands on revolvers. He got up and moved to the side of the sofa and looked down the street. No hedges or fences blocked his view. Three cops were a few houses down. A police cruiser pulled to a stop blocking this driveway. “I thank you for allowing me this rest, but I must leave now,” he said, watching the newly arrived car closely. Two cops got out of the cruiser and looked up toward the house. One talked into a radio attached to the shoulder of his uniform. Thomas held the shotgun loose in one hand. The old lady looked hopeful; she licked her lips, her hands twitched, eager for him to leave. He took a step away from the sofa, his back to her. “As soon as I leave, you’ll go running to them, won’t you?” “No.” “Ha!” “It’s true. You’re on a mission.” That was an unexpected reply. Had he really convinced this woman? It was doubtful. She just wanted him out of here before he shot her. It was understandable, but he couldn’t take

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the chance of her blabbing to the cops too soon. He needed a head-start. Time to allow him to get to the city, at least. “You believe in my mission?” he asked her. “Yes.” “That was a quick answer,” he replied, looking at her reflection in the glass of an oil painting. She was facing his back and moving to the edge of the sofa. She was about to run, her body projected it. “Hmm. It’s good that you believe. If you have a weapon, you should join me in my mission.” “What? I could never—” “Guess not,” Thomas said and spun around to face her, raising his shotgun like a baseball bat. “Oh my Lord,” she shrieked. He brought the weapon down on the side of her head. The strike was loud and harder than he planned. The leathery old skin split wide open, blood spilled forth, as her eyes closed and she dropped sideways to the carpet. She looked dead; a pool of blood soaked into the fluffy carpet, looking like a halo painted sideways. A glance outside showed four cops heading up the driveway. Time to go. He rushed to the back door, simultaneously attaching the shotgun to the inside of his coat. Not bothering to check first, he swung open the back door and faced a waist high fence. He vaulted the obstacle easily. A dog with lazy eyes watched him dash across the yard and onto the street. Finding the area clear, he leapt two more fences without incident and headed into the city at a brisk pace, keeping away from the main streets as much as possible, until he was close to

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the center. He would find somewhere else to do his cleansing. A populated area, where those most prone to the Devil’s gift would likely hang out. Thomas smiled. A bar or nightclub would be perfect. 2 Dr. Hayden Taylor made his way to the elevator. With his knee against the open door, stopping it from closing, he pocketed his cell phone and picked up the internal phone to check Henry’s progress. “He’s in the hallway, sir,” security reported. “It’s empty?” “As you requested, sir. And all security measures have been temporally deactivated.” “Good, good. Patch me through to Dr. Vistol, please.” “Yes, sir.” A series of clicks followed, then, “Dr. Vistol.” “Taylor here,” he said, finding it hard that some people answered the phone with their own name. “I need you to go and intercept a young man trying to escape. I have a feeling he’ll head toward you.” “Sir, isn’t that a job for security?” The shake in his voice was so clear, it was almost visible. “Normally, yes.” Silence. Then, “Where shall I intercept him?” “I commend your bravery,” Dr. Hayden said. People loved praise. “And your next paycheck will show it.”

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A brief pause, then, “Thank you, sir.” “Fine. Now go around the building to the back. I think he’ll try and find a car or other means of transport.” “Yes, sir.” “Have your keys ready.” Another pause. “My keys, Sir?” “Yes, Vistol. Your keys.” “Umm, yes, all right, sir.” Dr. Hayden Taylor hung up the phone. This wasn’t what he had planned for Henry. The original idea was to lead him to the office and allow several chances for escape. This was better, him running off like this. Made it real and added some challenges for the young man. This way, Henry was doing the important part on his own and he was bound to go looking for Darkness. The next call would be to Agent Baxter; let him know about the escape. Baxter was going to be fuming. About to press the L1 button, he suddenly remembered why he’d come down here in the first place—he needed the essence. It shouldn’t take more than a minute, then he’d go and check on Dr. Vistol personally. Just don’t look at the body, he warned himself. The image in his memory of his son was always the same—that of a five year old boy; his smiling face beamed at him each time they went to the park and the excitement of his favorite television show. But it was different in the lab. In the bathroom, his child was a grotesque, bloated body with splotches of purple scarring the skin, and rot holes scattered here and there. Parts of the skin were hard and leathery and the

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soles of the feet were cracked wide open. Months and months of decay. His son rested on a child-sized gurney that was jammed into the only stall in the bathroom. A heavy tarp covered the body. The stench hung off the walls of the stall like sludge; it felt like slime on his skin. Should be buried by now, he thought trying to keep his mind occupied, instead of staring at the decaying form laid out before him. It barely resembled the laughing, happy child he once knew and loved. “Soon,” he promised, “you’ll be buried in the grave next to your mother.” Positioning the needle under the neck, he pushed it up through the hardening flesh and pulled back on the plunger slowly. A thick yellow substance filled half the tube. It was a tough extraction, and Dr. Hayden Taylor had a thin line of sweat dripping down from his forehead and into his eyes He wiped his sleeve across his forehead. He stared at the yellow stuff for a moment, then recapped the needle and dropped it into his pocket. He recovered the body with the tarp. Exiting the lab, Dr. Taylor locked the door behind him and took a long deep breath. Getting his thoughts and emotions under control, he rode the elevator to the ground floor. Outside he found Dr. Vistol lying on the ground unconscious. Blood covered part of his face from the split forehead. A car was missing from the employee parking lot. At the scientist’s side, he slapped the face gently. “Dr. Vistol? Dr. Vistol? Can you hear me?” The scientist stirred. His eyes creaked opened but didn’t

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seem to focus. “You did well,” Dr. Taylor stated. He smiled, showing his approval. “Let’s get a medic to check you out, shall we.” His voice was light and bouncy—encouraging. Dr. Vistol nodded with some difficulty. Dr. Hayden Taylor helped the man to his feet. Briefly, he wondered what Vistol or any other employee would think if they knew a tracker was on the undercarriage of their car? He loosened a half smile. It didn’t really matter what anyone thought. It was a means to an ends, and came in handy like today. 2 Henry slid right past the doctor easily, while the guy was lost in some kind of trance and mumbling to himself. It looked like he was watching a playback of the past—if that were possible. He was told he could leave after the video. Shit, did the doctor think he was that stupid? For fuck’s sake. He saw his chance and took it. Edging past the doctor, he saw the cigarette lighter disguised as a gun and figured it might trick others. With the fake weapon firmly in hand, he glanced down the hallway. All seemed clear. Ignoring the elevator, he went up a flight of stairs. There were three flights and two had no exit doors. At the top of the stairs he found a door with a keypad attached to it. Cursing silently, he was about to head down and force the code from the doctor, when he noticed the pin number lock screen. In yellow letters, against the green background,

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flashed the word: Deactivated. After placing the gun in the front of his pants, he opened the door carefully, slowly and peeked around the jamb. He faced another hallway, but this one he remembered. It was the same one agent what’s-his-name brought him through. He wondered how many people were around then, because now the place was empty like a ghost town and the front door stood wide open. It had to be a set-up. This was just way too fucking easy. Silently as he could, Henry passed the door jamb and with his back against the side wall, he made his way to the front door. Strong sunlight beamed in, washing the entrance with harsh white light, forcing Henry to squint as he reached the front steps without incident. His eyes quickly adjusted and he faced a driveway, empty of vehicles. Even the van he’d arrived in wasn’t here. The driveway wound its way around the side of the building and roughly two hundred meters ahead of him was the brick wall he had run into this morning. Security didn’t seem to be working. Whatever the reason, this seemed very convenient: open doors, unlocked keypads, fake scenery, empty hallways. To his right was the other building, he briefly noticed before. There was a path leading around the side. He headed that way. It was risky, but he hoped it was faster. He rounded the path to the front of the second building and crouched down next to a waist high hedge. A long driveway stretched out before him and, leaning forward to see the front of the building, he spied two security cameras slowly

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sweeping the grounds. Shit. He had to go the other way. But that idea didn’t appeal to him. This place had security in place. No set-up in this location. He couldn’t trust the building behind him. His head throbbed and he gently rubbed his temples. It didn’t hurt as much as it had; now, only a dull annoying throb was present. A game plan is what he needed. Scanning the area around him, he discovered few options. On the side of the wide driveway were a dozen cars, all of them late models, there were a few fancy motorbikes and one mountain bike heavily chained to a tree. I have a gun, he thought. I could walk into the building ... and get shot by people with real guns. He felt screwed, forced to follow the easy path—but he knew the easy path was dangerous. It looked like he had no option. He had to go that way and take his chances. He needed a break—big time. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Looking over his shoulder, he saw a man in a white lab coat and glasses; he had short brown hair and a stocky build. Getting up from the crouched position, Henry’s hand went to the gun in the front of his pants. Facing the driveway, he pulled the fake weapon free and spun around, raising the gun to head level as he did. The man stumbled back a few steps clear of the gun. “What the hell?” “I need your coat and your car keys.” Henry kept his voice calm and his eyes cold. The man stared at him, unmoving.

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Henry pushed the cold steel against his forehead. “Good-Bye,” he said. The man’s hands shot up. “Wait,” he pleaded, voice quivering. He opened his coat and pulled the car keys from his front pants pocket, which was suddenly wet. He held the keys out. With his free hand, Henry snatched them. “Coat,” he reminded the guy. “I need my tag,” the man said. He unhooked the plastic square ID and removed his coat. Shrugging it off his shoulders; Henry pistol-whipped him. The guy’s head flicked to the side, the glasses flew to the ground, his eyes closed and his body dropped. Henry pulled the coat free. The sleeves were short but it didn’t matter. He only needed it to fool the security guards watching security cameras, so he could reach the car safely. He reached down and took the ID tag from the man’s limp hand. He glanced at it. “Thank you for your cooperation, Dr. J. Vistol.” On the key chain was a car alarm activator button. He pressed the on/off button a few times until he saw the flashing indicator lights. “There you are,” he said. Inside the car and feeling a lot safer, Henry looked closer at the ID tag. It was inside a plastic see-through case. He pulled it out and rubbed his thumb over the magnetic strip on the back. Dropping it on the passenger seat, he gunned the engine and pulled out of the parking space. A minute later, he stopped at a large iron gate with a keycard reader and a small sign reading: Please insert card.

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He wondered if it was the ID tag. It was the only card he had. He grabbed the tag and pushed it through the small slot. The heavy iron gates slid open. “Sly motherfucker,” he whispered, referring to Dr. J. Vistol and his need to hold onto the tag, which slid out of the slot as he shook his head. If the doctor hadn’t requested he keep it, Henry would be screwed right now as he had no idea what it was for. He snatched the card out of the slot and dropped it on the ground certain he wasn’t going to need it any longer.

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Chapter 15 1 Friday 1500

Darkness smiled at Nina. Together they had converted all but one area consultant and ordered them to their respected regions. Everything was running smoothly except for that one consultant for Invercargill, who lay at their feet. An obese man, who sweated profusely, had suddenly gone into a fit of rage during the conversion. He delivered a massive backhand strike that sent Nina straight to the floor. The skin around her beautiful black eyes immediately puffed up. Enraged, Darkness grabbed the bastard, twisted his head to the side and bit into his flabby neck. He ripped through the slimy fat and chomped at the tendons until there was nothing left but a flabby hunk of blood soaked meat. Covered in gore, he tossed the man into the closet, sharing space with his secretary. Splashes of blood covered his jacket. He pulled it off and threw it on the area consultant, then tended to Nina, who was on the sofa watching him with one eye, the other covered with a towel she had found somewhere. He moved to her side and wrapped her in his arms. “Don’t worry, Darian,” she said, using his real name. “I’ll be fine.” A knock at the door broke their embrace. He kissed her softly on the head and answered the knock.

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Blonde haired, blue eyed and fresh out of university, Tracy stood there. A worried look on her face. A badge on her chest read: Receptionist, Tracy. “Sir, the board members are waiting for you. And they’re getting impatient.” “Board members?” “You’re like, twenty minutes late for the meeting.” “Oh.” “Your secretary doesn’t seem to be about, today. So, I thought it best to remind you. You know, just in case.” He nodded. “I’ll head there now. Could you be a doll, and help Nina, she had an accident with an area manager.” He stepped aside so Tracy could see Nina on the couch and the small pool of blood on the carpet. “Oh my goodness,” she exclaimed. “I’ll get some ice and be right back.” She hurried off. Without a word, Darkness stepped out of the office and closed the door quietly behind him. The boardroom was a short walk away from junior offices and consultant rooms. A plaque above the doors announced the room and its purpose. He opened the doors and walked into the large room. Twelve men in black suits sat around the table in the center. All but a couple looked under fifty. Their conversations ceased the moment noticed him. “Mr. Ball,” one said, rising off his seat, leading the others. Darkness smiled. “Sorry to keep you gentlemen waiting.” The doors closed quietly behind him and he engaged the lock. Not that it was needed. This was going to be fun.

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2 A soft knock came at the door and before Nina had a chance to open it, the handle lowered and Tracy entered carrying a towel. Water dripped between her fingers as she knelt in front of the sofa. “Ice,” she said softly and gently pulled Nina’s hand away and discarded the previous towel. With great care, she placed the new pack on the injured eye. Nina winced. “Sorry.” “It’s okay. Just very cold.” “Jesus, he did a number on you. The cops know yet?” “Yes,” Nina lied. “Didn’t see him leave,” Tracy stated. “I’m sure things are pretty busy at your station.” “Usually is at this time of the day. Getting ready to wind down for the end of business.” She gave a lopsided smile. Nina moved into a sitting position; the girl remained on her knees. She put the ice pack beside her. Tracy was in front of her knees, she made to stand up. “This is a boring con-–” Nina leaned forward. “Honey, there’s something in your eye.” Tracy rubbed both eyes. “Gone?” “Nope. I’ll get it. Lean forward.” She opened her legs to swing sideways, giving the girl space but was surprised when Tracy quickly moved between them and tilted her head up. Her hands rested on Nina’s thighs. “There it is.” As she leaned forward, her vision automatically switched to gray. The pupil screamed at her; the hunger burned suddenly, hard and demanding. She didn’t want to do the same to Tracy as she had with the hairdresser. She wanted to build a

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team, first. With the speed of lightning, the tongue slid across the eyeball. The girl’s body went slack. With ease and like the slow tasting of a good wine, the other eyeball was enjoyed. Tracy’s blue eyes darkened until they were black and the black spread out covering the white. Lightly, she stroked the girl’s cheeks. “Let’s visit some of our busy workers.” 3 Corey thought it was his lucky day when Nina and Tracy, two of the most gorgeous women in this company entered his office with blouses partially open... Lorin had made some passes at Nina in the past, but nothing had come of them. She was entering data for the Auckland branch office, when her fantasy girl walked in, blouse open. “Come to me,” she said and Lorin did... Perry was searching the Internet when Tracy entered... Twenty minutes later, every worker was in the hallway, eyes black, staring at the boardroom doors, listening to the commotion. A moment later, Darkness swung the doors wide open. The boardroom behind him was a mess of littered bodies. Six of the younger board members followed him through the open doors. Darkness smiled at his small army, surprised Nina had worked so fast and without instruction. “First,” he said, voice booming and full of authority, “there are over three hundred workers here. I want them on my

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team.” He pointed to a girl eagerly awaiting orders. “What’s your name?” he asked in a softer voice. “Penny, sir.” “Penny, I want you at the loading dock. You’re to stay there and ensure every delivery person meets you. Understand?” “Yes, sir.” “And don’t call me sir. My name is Darian.” The army nodded as one. “Everyone fan out, work in pairs and be successful. Nina, come with me.” With that, he walked toward his office. Nina followed as half the army moved to the elevators and the other half moved to the stairs.

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Chapter 16 1 Friday 1515 Henry was having trouble remembering most of today’s events. In the last several hours, he’d been shot at, kidnapped, drugged and beaten and discovered the lab. “That doctor was one sick motherfucker,” Henry whispered to the rear-view mirror. A loud urgent horn blast snapped his eyes from the mirror to a Mack thundering directly at him. Henry yanked the steering wheel. Tires screamed, protesting the sudden sharp turn as they locked and slid out of the path of metal death. The truck’s air horn blasted the air as it rushed past, but he ignored it. Smoke poured up from the front tires in the rubber burning slide. At a rocket pace, the car lurched toward the roadside ditch. He turned into the slide and was instantly thrown sideways as the car fishtailed before coming to a sudden stop. The semi had also stopped. Henry turned the key in the ignition, a grinding sound escaped and he realized the car hadn’t stalled. He rammed the gear into reverse as a fat arm reached out of the Mack’s window. The middle finger rose and he heard a muffled shout. The truck blasted its horn again and slowly moved forward. With gathering speed, it reached the corner and

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disappeared. Henry stared at the corner. A million thoughts ran through him and not a single one made sense. He couldn’t stay here. They were bound to be coming. He eased the car across the road and continued on his way. He slowed for corners and only sometimes glanced in the rear-vision mirror. Slowly, rational thought overpowered the panic and paranoia, slowing his heart as the tires rumbled softly on the road. Trees and paddocks. Sheep eyed him and cattle paid no attention. His body relaxed and breathing returned to normal. A hawk flew across his windscreen at lightning speed, headed across the neighboring paddock and suddenly dived to the ground and returned to the sky with something small in its claws. Looking back at the road in front of him, he took a tight turn and stared dumbly at the cow in the middle of the lane. To the side he saw the broken fence and the trampled wire. He didn’t hit the brakes until it all registered, and by then it was too late. Henry felt the impact, felt the back of the car rise on its suspension springs, saw the windscreen instantly spider and cave in. The bloodied face of the cow swept into the opening and slammed his face. He felt the car swerve across the road with a loud squealing of tires. He was vaguely aware that he had to do something to stop the car but no other thoughts registered; everything was a haze of throbbing pain. A bump jolted his head against the ceiling. His sight cleared enough to see the edge of the road vanish and a long drop appear in its wake. The car dropped at a high speed and crashed into the forward rushing ground nose-first, slamming his head violently

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into the steering wheel, splitting the skin and letting loose a current of blood as the car rocked into a stable position. As unconsciousness swirled around, claiming his thoughts and sight second by second, he saw the cow slide off the bonnet, leaving a trail of blood in its wake. And he laughed, a single ‘ha’ before a different kind of darkness grabbed him and swallowed all his senses.

2 They had lost the shooter. The man seemed to have vanished off the radar. The police knew nothing and all reports had stopped. An A.P.B was circulating but pulling no results. The S.A.S. secured the scene. Helicopters buzzed over head, roadblocks were being set up. With no other options, Baxter and his team found a coffee shop in the city center near the Square. Susan took the seat next to him and on the other side of the table sat John Dernaham and the new guy, Thornton Whitfield. At the table next to them was Shirley Wong. Each had Lattes in take-out cups. No one spoke. Instead, they listened. Each and every person had information, they just didn’t know it. Baxter had taught his team how to ‘listen’ and only Thornton didn’t get it, but he was trying; his eyes were narrowed and his concentration was peaked. All around them conversations of various natures flowed. Some complained about friends or their job, others

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gossiped. Teenagers moaned about assignments and got excited over the latest idol. A lady sitting directly behind Baxter bitched about a friend, someone named Nina Stewart, who had ignored her this morning as if they’d never met: “Ever since she started at that company, she changed. And not for good, let me tell you.” She made an ‘Uh Uh’ sound, emphasizing her statement. Baxter tuned her out and put his empty coffee cup down when the cell phone in front of Susan rang. Caller ID flashed: Taylor. He wasn’t in much of a mood to answer it. Susan slid the phone along the table stopping it next to his cup. “Might be important,” she said quietly. Baxter looked from the phone to her, then back to the phone again and sighed loudly. He flipped open the top. “Baxter.” “I thought you might be interested to know that your friend, Henry Buffalo, has escaped.” “What! How the hell did that happen?” Baxter’s hand tightened against the black plastic of the phone. “It’s impossible to get out of that room.” From the corner of his eye, he saw Susan watching him closely. He covered the mouth piece. “Henry’s out,” he stated. Disbelief washed across her smooth features. Her mouth dropped open. She looked like she was about to protest but Baxter held up a hand. “Let me get the details, first.” Dr. Taylor was still talking, “...Not by the door. It appears he somehow found a way to break through to an old unused lab. It was sealed years ago.” His tone changed to challenging. “You wouldn’t know how he got a head injury and broke the wall, would you?”

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“No idea,” Baxter lied. “Your scientists mix the drinks, not me.” There was a long silence at the other end. “How long ago?” “Not sure. Roughly ten minutes, maybe twenty.” “Security?” “Saw nothing,” Taylor answered. “The timing was absolutely perfect. Security and surveillance disk change over. Unbelievable.” “Very,” Baxter added. “Luckily for us, he took a technicians car with a security tracker installed.” Baxter nodded to himself. “What’s the location?” “We don’t know.” “Huh?” “The tracker vanished from the screen.” Baxter shook his head, eyes on Susan. “This means, he either found it or it was faulty.” “Indeed.” “Last known location?” A moment of silence followed, then, “Route one. Headed to the city.” Dr. Taylor read out a series of numbers. Baxter nodded to Whitfield, he repeated the numbers and the new agent scrawled them onto a napkin. Baxter folded the phone and slid it into his breast pocket. He stared at the ceiling for a moment lost in thought. Outside the coffee shop, they crossed the road and went up a side street. For once, Baxter would love to find parking close to his destination. The traffic was getting heavier year by

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year. The city was growing too fast for his liking, he figured it would burst soon, come apart at the seams and be nothing more than another city on the map, and the beach would be overpriced Real Estate. A horn blared. To his left a delivery van thundered toward him. The street was lined with parked cars; there was no room to swerve. For a brief second, Baxter thought this was it, his closing moment. He saw the driver staring at him, wide eyed and terrified. Then he was yanked back and he felt the whoosh of air as the van powered past missing him by an inch. “Jesus Tom!” Susan shouted, her hand was still on his shoulder and her face had lost some of its color. The rest of the team looked equally shocked. They had all seen the van, all except him. He watched the vehicle speed away and hook a left onto the main street. His eyes were drawn to the spot where the van had been a moment ago. The air seemed to waver as if caught in the van’s passing wake and Baxter thought he heard the sound of swords clashing and cries of rage. A sound that sent chills down his spine. “Are you all right?” Susan asked. Baxter nodded. He looked at the other team members. “Shall we?” he said, shaking loose the sounds of swords and angry men. Sounds he hadn’t heard since he was a child. Sounds of drums beating and swords singing.

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Chapter 17 Friday 1543 Tahuma Morris, Taka to everyone who knew him, was a courier driver and a damn fine one at that. He wore a red and white diagonally striped shirt that matched his van and a pair of black jeans, which wasn’t part of the uniform, but no one ever said anything. Taka wouldn’t listen anyway. He was six foot three, with short black bristly hair, wide shoulders and muscles that bulged through his shirt. His brown skin was smooth and heavily tattooed. He pulled off Loop Road and onto Sally Avenue. He was behind schedule and his foot was heavy on the accelerator. The Iron Maiden CD finished. Taka hit the eject button, fumbled blindly in his CD case and pulled out: Anti-Christ Superstar. “Now, I ain’t heard you for a while,” he said to the CD and took his eyes off the road and inserted it into the player. When he looked up a fucking suit was standing in the middle of the fucking road. His palm slammed the horn, no time to break. Their eyes locked for a second and suddenly some woman grabbed the suit’s shoulder and pulled Stupid White Guy out of the way. Taka’s foot went to the brake a split second after they’d missed. His eyes flicked to the side mirror. The guy was staring

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at the van. A bulge in his suit jacket gave Taka the willies thinking it could be a gun. He hated those damn things. No way in hell he was going to stop now. His foot traveled back to the accelerator and he pulled onto Main Street. Moments ago he’d been tired, but now he was wideawake, alert, and headed in the wrong direction. Shit. He was already late. Courier driving had its advantages and disadvantages. The mother of all disadvantages was time, and Taka fought a losing battle each and everyday. Still this was the best job in the world. He pulled up behind a station wagon. Two kids were loose in the back, leaning against the window. Taka figured the girl was maybe three and the boy, five. They made faces at him and he replied in kind, forcing them into bursts of giggles. In the opposite lane, Taka noticed a break in the traffic headed his way. He pulled his attention away from the kids. The break was small but available. He twisted the wheel, executing a perfectly timed U-turn, yet close enough to get a horn blast of protest. Three minutes later he was cruising through the square. He took the first right and reversed into the small docking bay of Ball Enterprises. Where was Craig? He expected to see the foreman standing on the docking bay guiding him in, not a hot looking brunette with the top three buttons of her blouse undone, staring at her feet. A courier, blue and green, was parked on the opposite side without a driver in sight. All the doors were open. The van looked empty. A large stack of boxes sat on the loading area,

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unattended. Taka grabbed the electronic pad off the dashboard and jumped out of the cab. He smiled at the girl. “Hi there,” he said, taking a small set of stairs up to the dock. The girl raised her head and replied with a blank stare, before letting her gaze drop back to her shoes. The girl didn’t faze him; he’d met many walks of life in this job. “Told I had an envelope to pick up.” He glanced around hoping to spot Craig. No luck; the guy was out-of-sight. The small glass office to his left was empty, three swivel chairs were askew, on the counter the paperwork was messed up. A song he recognized oozed from hidden speakers. At the back of the large concrete area, a door led to a whole bunch of offices and labs where, Taka assumed, they tested electronic shit that made life easier. He’d been down that corridor a few times before, but usually his pick ups were from the office, or here. He noticed a few overturned boxes with foam bubbles scattered on the floor. “Where’s Craig,” he asked the girl. Spidery fingers of wrongness sliced up his spine. Something was amiss. An emotion he hadn’t felt in a long time returned with a vengeance, setting his nerves on edge. His fingers flexed, loosening up in order to make a good fist. The sun beamed in, washing the concrete in waves of light. The girl stepped back away from the rushing rays. She stopped in the shadows of towering shelves stacked with boxes and rolls of bubble wrap. Taka watched her silently. “Do you know where Craig is?” Keeping her eyes constantly lowered, the girl raised her

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arm and pointed to the empty office. Taka turned on his heel and strolled over. He stopped in front of the glass windows but couldn’t see anyone inside, but he did see the envelope he was paid to pick up. An office chair moved. A touch on his shoulder startled him. Surprised, he jerked sideways and stepped back a pace. The brunette wasn’t looking at the floor anymore. Her green eyes bored into his. Her body started trembling and her eyes widened, fear seeped forth and Taka felt his hands balling into tight fists. “All is lost for the warlock’s blood,” she whispered. Oh great, I’ve bumped into a crazy bitch. Taka reached out for the door handle. Just take it easy, grab the envelope and split. The brunette laughed, soft and sweet at first, tickling the air. It grew in volume to one long, deep toned ‘Haaaaa’ as Taka watched her green eyes fade to black. Fuck the envelope! Her hand reached for him. Taka swatted it away, sidestepping her at the same time. He was big and strong, yet this chick freaked him out. If he had one problem it was wackos; people a few brain cells short of reality. They sent shivers through his whole body. The girl spoke, her words came out slurred as if her tongue had suddenly become useless. “Where are you going?” Taka ignored her, seeking the safety of his van and the busy streets beyond. He planned never to come here again. His legs desperately wanted to run, bolt toward the safety zone, but he couldn’t bring himself to do that. Running was for wimps. And besides, the brunette was just a chick.

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But what was with her eyes? The office window exploded. Shards of tiny daggers showered him, sliced his face, and drew blood. Instant heat developed from the inside of his ear and warm wetness followed. A phone ring tone filled his hearing as a heavy body collided with him, slamming him sideways to the floor before the last of the glass landed. The high-pitched ring tone faded as he struggled to his knees. A boot struck his ribs, knocking him onto the glass. He felt the blades rip through his shirt and pierce his skin. He looked up at his attacker. Craig stared down at him. His expression held no emotion. His black eyes pulsed as they looked down. Deep cuts lined his face. Gripped tight in his hand was a long steel bar and the friendly man, Taka considered a mate, looked ready to drive that bar through flesh. The bar swung without warning, arched toward Taka and he found strength and speed he never knew existed as he rolled across the shattered glass, ignoring the small stabbing daggers, coming to a stop almost against steel shelves. Craig’s heavy bar struck the floor with a loud ringing sound and it looked as if the vibration might kick it from Craig’s hands. He stepped forward, raising the bar as he did so. Taka searched frantically for a weapon, anything would do, but all he saw was dust and poisoned rat pellets. On the second shelf were boxes, none of which looked heavy and none of which looked anything like a viable weapon. The bar powered down. No option. He covered his face with his arms hoping to

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deflect the blow. Jarring pain ripped through his right arm and jolted his elbow. Instantly his arm felt white hot and a violent tingling sensation ran through his fingers. The bar rose a third time. Taka rolled to his side, grunting with the effort; swung his legs with as much force as he could muster and kicked the legs out, knocking Craig off balance. A second kick to the ankles took him down. His ex-friend hit the concrete floor, his head struck with a resounding thunk and the steel bar fell from his grip. On his feet quickly, Taka delivered a hard kick and heard ribs break. Craig’s eyes fluttered shut; his chest rose and fell fast. A thin stream of blood ran from the corner of his mouth. Taka turned to the van and saw the brunette charge him, her face twisted, anger taking control of her features; spittle flew from her mouth as her scream tore the air. Keeping his composure, he bent down and picked up the steel bar. Craig’s hand clamped his wrist. Black eyes stared at him with blinding hatred. Hard and fast, Taka’s fist slammed his mouth three times. Teeth ripped his knuckles as they came free. Gripping the bar in one hand, he straightened up and faced the screaming brunette. She was almost upon him but stopped suddenly. “Yeah, back the fuck off, bitch,” he said calmly, finally entering the zone where getting out was the only thing that mattered. His breathing was regular, nerves relaxed, and he was truly at peace having accepted the situation despite the throbbing in his right arm. He could barely feel the bar in his

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hands, so he gripped it with everything he had. Keeping his eyes on the brunette, he edged to the front of the docking bay. The bitch laughed. His heart sank seeing the van’s slashed front tires. “You did this?” The brunette smiled. “Uh-huh. When you were fighting,” she said in a singsong voice of a child. Her hips swayed side to side. “You’re strong.” She licked her lips. Taka eyed the other van. Its tires looked fine and he back stepped toward it, all the time keeping his eyes on the crazy chick’s actions. “Wanna fuck?” she asked unbuttoning her blouse. She unhooked the front of her bra and pulled the cups away, exposing two near picture-perfect firm lumps with erect nipples. “I worked hard on them. You can to.” She took a step forward. Taka raised the bar in a threatening manor. A slice of pain twisted across his forearm. “You crazy fuck. Just stay where you are.” “I know you like them. You are a man, aren’t you?” She raised her eyebrows. “Or do you bend the other way?” He raised the bar higher, gritting his teeth against the pain. “Don’t move bitch,” he threatened. His arm shook from holding the bar in such a way. But he refused to lower it. “I’ll open wide and let you pound my tight, barely used cunt raw.” Her eyes flicked to the side, then snapped back to him. A cunning smile painted her lips as her eyes lowered to his groin. Taka realized she was stalling, waiting for those who’d

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heard her scream to arrive offering black-eyed assistance. “Come on, baby,” she cooed. “I’m all wet just thinking about your big, dark cock.” Swaying her hips, she hiked her mini-skirt up to the waist. Locking her eyes on him, her hands roamed her body, stroked tight thighs and brushed a white panty-covered crotch. She rubbed roughly a few times, and then vigorously massaged herself. The brunette dropped to her knees offering him a full view of her wetness. A door slammed somewhere in the complex. Others would be here soon. Taka approached her. He stood over her lithe body, one foot on each side of her waist. She smiled up at him; one hand reached up and stroked him. He raised the bar high and drove it into her right eye. The brunette’s back arched up, jolted off the floor. Her slender fingers splayed out at the shock but no sound escaped her. A second later, her body flopped to the floor; silent spasms racked the body as it spent the last of its energy. Closing his eyes, Taka pulled out the steel bar. It came free of her head with a ‘squelching’ sound that turned his stomach inside out. Taka staggered to the edge of the loading dock and dropped to his knees. Vomit sprayed the air and splashed the concrete below. Heaving fresh air deep into his lungs in rapid breaths, he opened his eyes and saw the driver of the other courier van. Someone had leaned him against the front tire, perfectly hidden from the opposite side. His face was torn open, almost gone. Flesh dangled off the side of his jaw and long jagged strips. His eyes were gone.

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This was messed up. Taka had gone from rushing to get a job done and somehow during the hectic bustle he’d been pushed into a horror movie. Running footsteps echoed behind him. He turned in time to see a foot swing at him. It struck his cheek, knocking Taka off the edge of the loading dock and onto the unforgiving concrete below. Unconsciousness swallowed him. He was thankful for it.

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Chapter 18 1 Friday 1605 Baxter turned onto an empty side street lined with shrubs and wire fences and pressed down hard on the accelerator trying to gain some lost time. The back streets had proved very busy. Then he remembered the super-mall and the special sale they were holding from five this evening till eleven tonight. As he pulled onto the street, he thought he heard the faint cry of an ambulance headed off into the distance. Further down the street, he saw the start of the F.A.D. complex. The research lab stood out like a sore thumb in the middle of the countryside. He spotted cows roaming close to the electric fence bordering the complex, quite a distance from the buildings. His agency building was completely hidden by a high concrete wall. Recalling Henry running headfirst into it brought a smile to the corner of his lips. From nowhere, Shirley suddenly said, “I was thinking that our assignment would keep a low profile, knowing how close we’ve been recently.” Baxter nodded letting Shirley speak her mind. It was a policy that made the team stronger. Each member had the chance to offer his or her opinion; Baxter would consider all the information at his disposal and make a decision, one that often put lives at risk. He made no decision lightly. “You told us what Henry said, but I don’t get the feeling Darkness would rush,” Shirley said.

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Baxter noticed Shirley looked at Susan when she spoke. “He’s been very careful to date. Why suddenly change his game plan?” Again, Baxter nodded, but he knew she was waiting for Susan to speak. He watched her reflection in the rear view mirror. Susan stared straight ahead, seemingly lost in thought. She didn’t bat an eyelid as they rushed past the complex. She looked as tired as Baxter felt. None of them, save Whitfield, had slept properly in three days preparing for the failed capture attempt of Darkness. None had even considered a kid with a Glock and the mess he would make. Susan turned to Shirley and said, “That’s why.” “Huh?” “We’re too close, been that way for months now. He’s learned all he needs to know,” Susan said, returning her vision to the road stretching ahead of them. “We can assume he’s in a younger, stronger body. Darkness won’t accept an inferior host like his last.” Baxter butted in: “I think that was a disguise. He was trying to hide.” “Maybe,” Susan said. “In his present form, we can also assume he has infected others, if Henry is to be believed.” Baxter watched her brow crease in thought. He loved the way she worked though problems. Her choice of the word, ‘assume’ wasn’t correct; he would have substituted it for ‘know’. She worked though all probabilities, taking the worst possible result and working backwards to a starting point. He wondered what she considered the ‘worst possible result’. “The question is,” she said, “who would suit its needs?” Baxter rounded a tight corner and saw skid marks

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across the road. The waviness and curved scarring suggested a vehicle had spun a full ninety degrees. He slowed down for a closer look. Almost into the ditch, he thought. Was that you, Henry? Susan leaned toward the windshield to get a closer look at the marks on the road. Something glittered near the shallow ditch, catching Baxter’s attention. He stopped the van and got out. He heard the rear doors open and slam shut, a moment later Dernaham and Whitfield stood at his side. Clouds overhead parted and the sun found the object Baxter searched for, and bounced off it with glee. Baxter knew what the object was before picking up the tiny thin box. It was Dr. Hayden Taylor’s tracker. “Must’ve come off during the spin,” he muttered, then turned to face his team. Susan was a few feet in front of the van, holding her badge high to stop an approaching car. Shirley was at the back of the van, barely visible to him. She was waiting for a car, but the road looked clear all the way to the corner. “What’s that?” Whitfield asked. Baxter handed the tracker to him. He studied it a moment. “Lucky Henry took a car with a tracker, aye.” His forehead crinkled in thought. “Hang on. What would a tracker be doing on an agent’s car?” “A scientist’s car,” Baxter corrected him. “Fine, a scientist’s car. Why would it have an agency security tracker?” His eyes followed Baxter and Dernaham as they headed back to the van. Susan leaned close to the driver and said something, Baxter couldn’t hear. He didn’t realize he was watching her

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until she flashed a smile in his direction, headed back to the van. Shirley was at the passenger door first and opened it for her. Baxter leaned closer to the van and waited for the car to pass before he opened the driver’s door. He saw Whitfield still holding the tracker as he made his way to the rear of the van. By the look on his face, Baxter knew the kid was trying to answer his own question. He considered telling Whitfield the harsh reality of politics within any agency but decided against it. In the long run, it would be best for the kid to discover that fact of life for himself, over time. “Why indeed,” he said, shrugging his shoulders and offering an innocent look. “You don’t think it’s weird.” “Weird. Yes, yes it is weird.” Baxter turned away from the kid’s searching eyes and opened the driver’s door. Seated behind the wheel, he turned back to Whitfield. “Toss that in the ditch, unless you want to keep it.” “Hell no.” Whitfield tossed it over his shoulder. The tracker sailed through the air and at exactly the right second, it dropped and landed in the center of the ditch. “Nice shot.’ Whitfield shrugged. “Lucky shot,” he said and rounded the side of the van. Baxter heard the door slam and turned his attention to Susan. “Someone was going fast. Let’s hope he slowed down.” He slammed the driver’s door shut and pressed his foot hard on the accelerator. He shifted though the gears fast and smooth. The van hit a hundred with ease, rounded a corner and abruptly slowed down.

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A group of cars were parked along both sides of the road. A small gathering of people stood around the embankment. Baxter saw a couple of kids standing on his side of the road and automatically slowed to a crawl. The kids, both girls about four and six, waved at the van as it passed. Shirley waved back at them. He brought his concentration back to the road. In the distance, he saw a tractor approaching and heard a police siren. Passing the kids, he sped up. “Jesus Baxter. Stop!” He hit the brakes hard. The van jerked, halted. He looked at Susan. “What?” She pointed out the side window. “Fuck!” He slammed the stick into reverse and suddenly heard the sound of swords clashing and beating drums for the second time that day. Shaking his head, he managed to knock the sounds away. About to reverse, he remembered the children behind him and instead drove forward and parked ten meters up the road. The police siren was loud as it passed the van and pulled to the side of the road. In the side mirror, Baxter watched the cops ease out of the vehicle and take in the scene before they crossed the road. The male officer spoke into the radio attached to his jacket. They stopped and stared at the wreckage for a moment. The female officer pulled out a notepad and started talking to witnesses. The other cop hurried down to the wreckage. Baxter climbed out of the van and pulled out a thin wallet. Susan and Shirley followed suit. At the back of the van,

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he banged on the doors. Dernaham peered at him. “What is it, boss?” “Car wreck.” Dernaham’s eyebrows shot up and his eyes widened. “Our boy?” “Let’s check,” Baxter said and turned away from the van. He headed to the embankment and stopped next to the police officer staring down at the car. Its front was crushed; blood and glass covered the crumpled bonnet and a cow that would never give milk ever again, leaned against it. “Excuse me.” Baxter turned to the female cop. Her nametag read: J. Osterman. He held his wallet open, exposing a silver badge and ID card in the facing sleeve. “What happened?” Osterman sighed. “We’re still trying to determine that, sir.” She looked down at her partner. “Hey, Frank.” He looked up. “Suits are here to take over.” She nodded in Baxter’s direction. He quickly held up his hands. “No, no, no,” he said in rapid succession. “Not here to take over. I’m sure we can leave that in your more than capable hands.” He smiled as friendly as he could. “The car below matches our present investigation.” “Boss?” “Yeah.” He turned to Dernaham and instantly knew what the tracker wanted. “Go for it.” To the officer, he said, “My agent is going to check. I promise he won’t disturb anything.” “He better not.” Baxter turned from her and watched Dernaham slide

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down the embankment. He spoke to ‘Frank the cop’ and a moment later they were both laughing. Frank moved out of the way. Dernaham poked his head into the wreckage. “What have you learned, so far?” Baxter asked. He placed both hands behind his back. Using his index fingers, he commanded his team to ask questions in stealth mode. “We just arrived, but an ambulance has already been and gone,” Osterman said. The low rumble of a tractor filled the air. It stopped beside them. The driver looked like a cliché farmer. He wore a baseball cap, checked shirt and faded jeans. Possibly in his late forties or early fifties; his face was tanned and lined by years of hard work. A stomach that enjoyed food and large amounts of beer, overhung his belt. The weathered farmer turned the key in the ignition and killed the engine. “Oh, Lordy,” the farmer exclaimed, climbing off the tractor. He pulled out a handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped sweat from his brow. “Officer, is the driver okay?” “The driver has been taken to hospital, sir.” “Oh, Lordy.” Fear lightened his skin. His eyes were locked on the wreckage below. “My cow,” he muttered. “Me son, Lindsay saw the accident.” He looked up to an adjoining field. A small figure stood way off in the distance. “He just now told me.” He turned to face Officer Osterman at last. “I don’t know how the cow got out. Honestly I don’t. I haven’t grazed cows in this field for three months.” The farmer started blubbering, rambling on, panicstricken. Two kids ran past Baxter. He heard one say, “He looks

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like the ambulance driver.” The other kid replied, “So?” and punched her in the arm. “You’re it!” he shouted and ran off dodging parked cars. Dernaham trudged back up the embankment. Without a word, he nodded. “Thank you for your time,” Baxter said to Officer Osterman. “Not your case?” “Apparently not,” he lied with a shrug of his shoulders. “She’s all yours.” He turned on his heel, headed back to the van. Behind him, he heard the farmer start rattling on again and the officer doing her best to calm him down and get the details. For a brief moment, Baxter wondered why an ambulance would beat the police to an accident site. It didn’t usually work that way. 2 Henry awoke in a room so dark he could barely make out any of the rooms objects objects. They were blurred and his head pounded. He saw shapes on the wall, possible posters or unframed paintings. In the corner of the room sat a chair with clothes stacked on top. Directly in front of him was the outline of the room’s doorframe. No light bled through the gap under the door. Muffled sounds of a television pulsed through the walls. His bed was soft and the place had a strange smell to it. It wasn’t the nose-scolding aroma of hospital floors. He tried to identify it but failed. It reminded him of an old dog with a wet coat.

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He had to be in a hospital, where else would he be? Closing his eyes, Henry relaxed. His breathing slowed as images of the accident surfaced. He saw the cow slide off the bonnet; he recalled laughing at that...then darkness...followed by nothing. Nothing. No, that was wrong. There was something. His hands clenched into tight fists at his side. He emptied his head of all thoughts, images of this hospital room and forced his throbbing headache into a dull, yet bearable, thumping. His whole body relaxed...the headache faded...and he was standing in the darkness of night. Something was hiding in the darkness, yet he did not fear it. In full concentration, he pictured the dark countryside and saw the shapes of hills. An Owl hooted somewhere nearby, its sound ripped the silent night. He waited for his eyes to adjust. Henry spun around. Behind him were a cluster of trees and bush. Above the trees, dawn pushed its way over the horizon. In the dark regions of the forest, a horse snorted...and a drumbeat sounded in the distance. The morning’s sun rays lit the sky; a soft blue seeped across the heavens. Henry looked up, his eyes focused on the sun. No pain came from gazing into the great ball of fire; he did not squint against the harshness and he did not blink. A new sound escaped the forest. It was the clashing of steel and blood letting. He knew what the battle was for. Hundreds of men and children would soon be dead, and he would control the land claimed. Henry turned his gaze from the sun to the entry of the

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forest. The beating of drums grew louder. Darkness had swallowed him again, only to allow him to wake up here. The dream had been so vivid; he felt the heat on his face and the soft ground under his feet. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard the drums or steel striking steel. It wasn’t the first time he felt like he was someplace else, either. And this time it came covered in déjà vu. It was the first time he’d ever dreamed of an approaching battle and the emotions that came with it. Before, it had only been the drums pounding in his head, filling the silence. Like the night when he’d first seen Darkness. The pounding was loud—loud enough to awaken him from a whiskey-induced sleep. Groggily, he clambered off the bed and staggered out into the hall, using the wall for balance. Dressed only in his boxers, he entered the living room and stared at the dead television. He had thought it was on; that would explain the beating of a drum. Now he had no idea from where that sound had arisen. It couldn’t have been a dream; Henry had always been able to recall midnight plays inside his head. All he had to do was relax and concentrate and they would come back in full living color. Barely standing straight in his dark living room, he wondered if he could make it to bed or crash here on the floor. In deep contemplation, he absent-mindedly scratched his balls as his attention was drawn to the open curtain and the old man staring at him through the thin glass. Standing at the old guy’s side was Debbie. He remembered Debbie, affectionately known as the town bike. He scooped up a packet of cigarettes off the scarred

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coffee table. The packet was wet from Whiskey spillage that pooled in several parts of the table and floor. A cold shiver ran the length of his spine causing him to check on the old man again. Standing statue-still, the old bugger stared hard at Henry, clearly showing his disapproval for the cigarettes and alcohol and general state of his life. Without realizing it, the cigarette packet fell from Henry’s grip and dropped to the coffee table, coming to a rest next to the Whiskey bottle. Slowly, he looked around his living room, saw the mess and smelled the filth stained into the walls. This was vile, disgusting and rotten. No man should live like this. The old man smiled and gave a polite wave goodbye. Henry watched him leave. He was surprised to find himself moving to the window and following the man’s slow footsteps to a house five doors down. He didn’t realize he had opened the window and was leaning out just to see the man enter the house. He kept watch for the next few minutes and after no further activity, he ambled to his bedroom and fell instantly asleep. Early next morning, Henry opened the front door to the insistent knocking that drove sleep from him and faced the old man. With Debbie at his side, they pushed past him into the apartment and Henry heard an amazing story before he was offered a position he couldn’t refuse and was promised a Glock by the end of the day. Henry was offered a nice place a few doors down, but he had to be constantly on guard, alert for anything unusual.

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This meant no more whiskey. “Deal?” the old man asked. Henry smiled. And now, here he was, in a crappy hospital without his friend and alone. Once again, Henry was totally and completely alone. A tingly feeling crawled across his chest, prickling his skin. It circled in the center and shrunk to the size of a pinhead. He sighed, knowing the emptiness headed his way. Suddenly, as if sensing his readiness, it vanished, burrowing deep into his body. It hallowed him out almost instantly. The emptiness was complete and reminded him too much of his old days. Henry hated this feeling. The only time he ever felt whole was with Darkness. It was like Darkness made him complete. He belonged with Darkness. Without him, Henry was nothing; the way he’d been before Darkness stared at him through the window. Before the sound of drums and clashing steel stole his concentration. And long before the dream of the coming battle invaded his night. There was a time before all that. A time when he didn’t care about anyone or anything, including himself. The world was a dark void that he filled with whiskey and cigarettes. But, Darkness had cleaned him out almost instantly. He had managed to stop drinking and smoking and was fitter and stronger from his own plan of in-house training. And the world was no longer gloomy. The emptiness dissipated as the start of a headache seeped into his temples. Henry raised his hands to soothe the affected area, but they only rose as high as his waist. He tried to lift them higher and failed. He wasn’t too weak to raise his hands. No, he could now feel the pinch of a metal bracelet and

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hear the clinking of chains when he moved. The cops had nabbed him after the accident. It was the only answer. Henry moved his legs and discovered they were free. He tried to see the chains but only the outline of the links showed. The room was too dark. Didn’t hospitals only dim the lights at night? He was seriously screwed; not stuck between a rock and a hard place—he was under the rock jammed against a hard place. Agent Baxter would get his hands on him again. And that was not a prospect he looked forward to, but there wasn’t anything he could do chained to a bed in a hospital that reeked of wet fur and dead animals. What kind of hospital was this? Where the hell was he? How long had he been out? “Hey!” he yelled. “Hey, open the door, give me some light.” He stared at the blurred outline of the doorframe. He thought he heard faint footsteps pass the door. “Hello!” Nothing. They wanted him to sweat it out, huh? They wanted him to offer up his friend. He leaned back in bed and closed his eyes. He didn’t seem to have a lot of energy; the yelling had tired him out. Images of the videotape he had watched flashed in front of his eyes: The child sitting in a cot, head lowered... Henry shook the image away as a key rattled the lock. He sat up and focused on the door. Light exploded from the gaps highlighting the rectangle shape. The lock disengaged with a loud clunk of a falling tumbler and slowly, with a hint of

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hesitation, it swung open. Framed in the doorway was a plump figure. Her face was hidden by the brightness behind her and Henry blinked rapidly to bring his sight into focus but failed. Everything was blurry. He could however, make out the clothes she wore: A frilly apron, shapeless calf-length housedress and slippers. Her hair looked curly with the light streaming against it and was cut at shoulder length. He was not in a hospital. The figure in the doorway reached into the room and flicked on a light switch. The sudden light momentarily blinded him. He blinked rapidly several times until his blurred sight righted itself and the pain vanished. Colors and the woman filled the room. “Well, I see you’re awake,” she said, stepping into room. Her face held a gray tint, especially around her large green eyes. She brushed unruly red curly hair from her face. She looked close to, or in, her forties. There was hardness to her face and the double chin enhanced it, reminding Henry of many matrons in countless movies. Yet, she did not frown. Her expression was neutral. “Where am I?” Henry asked. He raised his hands as far as the chains would allow. “And why these?” The woman stared at him. Her fleshy lips twitched as if she were about to say something but had suddenly forgotten how to speak. Either that, or she was trying to contain her rage over something. Henry pushed on: “This isn’t a hospital.” He nodded toward a couple of posters on the walls; The White Stripes stared at him, as did Megadeth and Linkin Park. Interesting

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mix. “You killed our cow,” she said at length. A young girl, no older than four and with ash-blonde pigtails appeared at the woman’s side. She tugged on the apron, stealing attention. “Mama.” The woman looked down with a smile. “Oh you must be very hungry by now. Sorry little one. Give me a minute and I’ll whip up some spaghetti for you and your brother before you go to your Aunt’s place for the night. Okay?” The girl smiled and ran off. Her attention back on Henry, she reached for the light switch and flicked it off. She stepped out of the room and closed the door gently behind her, sealing the room in darkness again. With the woman gone, Henry pulled on the restraints. He thrashed madly on the bed hoping to loosen them but didn’t feel the slightest give. Frustration turned to wild anger bridging on panic and he yanked hard at the chains until his shoulders throbbed and a burning sensation set into his wrists and he felt a dribble of blood run free. Exhausted, he stopped. The chains were secure and weren’t about to come loose. He leaned over the bed, hoping to see what they were attached to, but the room was too dark, hidden in shadows. Shadows? Henry realized it wasn’t as dark as before in the room. A slither of dull light seeped into the room. Twisting his head he saw a thick curtain behind the headboard had slightly parted from the thrashing on the bed. He considered thrashing again but on closer

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inspection, he noticed the curtain was hanging away from the bed. It would achieve nothing. From nowhere the pounding of drums returned inside his head, beating in time with the throb of his headache, which returned with a vengeance. Resigned to his fate, he rested his aching body on the soft bed and stared at the ceiling.

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Chapter 19 1 Friday 1630

Climbing out of his chair, Darkness strode to the window with his hands clasped behind his back; one of Christopher Ball’s habits that Darkness couldn’t break so he allowed it. This was an excellent body and he decided to keep it. Plus this physical appearance attracted Nina to him, allowing him to freely plant his seed in her. Nina resembled his wife in so many ways, in her actions and way she talked, only the eyes were different. In his mind, he saw his wife the first time they met, in the marketplace. She was under the employment of Mistress Caroline of Isles at the time. And it was love at first sight. For two months, they met in secret. In the third, they married, also in secret, and together they took flight to a small country town and somehow built a life that had produced a child and the first introduction to the Elders. Remembering the Elders brought his attention back to the present. He stopped at the large windows and stared down. Nothing seemed out of place, nothing seemed wrong. Hard to know an infection was taking control that would change the human race forever. A kind of evolution. Far below, the streets filled up as rush hour crept closer. He wondered what they were all thinking about; were

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they worried or excited about dinner dates, parties and whatnot or did they just want to get home and forget about work for the weekend? Friday night approached fast and the night crowd would be thinking about the dark hours and flashing disco balls. Soon the infection would be everywhere. A harsh knock at the door broke him from his thoughts. He glanced at Nina, but she was already headed for the door. Watching from behind, he admired her form. The sway of her hips was a pleasure to behold and she was his. Just as Heather had been all those years ago. Nina had been the right choice. Inside her, his son was forming. Nine months was a long time to wait but it gave him time to work, time to build a world for his son to rule. Rule? As Nina opened the door, Darkness turned back to the window and realized his plan had changed. He never expected to meet someone like Nina. A lot had changed since eight this morning. “Why bring him here?” “Dunno. Figured the big guy would know what to do.” Nina leaned out the door. She whispered but Darkness still heard. “Just change him...anywhere.” “Tried that. Didn’t work.” “What do you mean?” “You try.” “Turning him?” “Uh-huh” Nina sighed. “Fine.” Darkness couldn’t see what was going on but he heard Nina’s surprised gasp a moment later, followed by, “Stay the

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fuck here.” “That’s why we brought him,” the man said. Darkness heard the comments and was deeply curious about the man who could not be converted. It was an impossible notion to consider. It gave him cause to worry. If one was immune, then it was highly likely there would be more. Nina closed the door and quickly approached. Her head was slightly bowed and her hands were clasped in front of her. “There’s a problem.” Darkness looked past her at the closed door. “Interesting.” He placed his hand under her chin and pushed her head up so they were face to face. He stared into her beautiful black eyes. “Bring him in.” Nina opened the office door taking a step back to allow entry. Two men Darkness recognized, carried in a heavy-set man. They each had a beefy arm draped across their shoulders and seemed to struggle with the weight. The man on the left had short blond hair and forceful black eyes; a thin scar crossed his chin. He was a wiry man but carried an air of hardness about him. The man on the right was chubby with a second chin but he looked strong. Darkness thought they worked in the storage room and both men had their shirts pulled out. The man on the left wore a red and black checked long sleeved shirt and light blue jeans. The other wore a straight blue tee shirt and black trousers. The men stopped directly in front of their leader; the Maori’s head hung lifeless toward the floor. Then he moaned.

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“Nina, hold his head up,” Darkness said. Face to face, Darkness got a good look at the man’s features. There was a huge purple mark on one side of his face and both eyes were swollen. Watching carefully for a full minute, he noticed the eyes were unmoving. There was no R.E.M. at all, not the slightest movement behind those ballooned flaps of skin. “I know you’re conscious,” Darkness said, his voice soft and even. The man’s mouth moved in a chewing motion. Darkness thought he was trying to wet his mouth to speak coherently, so he waited patiently, interested in what the man had to say, although he dearly wanted to rip out his Adam’s Apple. “Hey,” the man said, his swollen eyes opened a crack. Darkness looked into those bloodshot marbles. “Fuck you.” Darkness pulled his hand back to deliver a strike, when spit flew from the man’s chapped, blood-stained lips and struck his mouth. He felt some of the blood-cased liquid fly through his parted lips and surf across his tongue. Instantly, his hand responded. The force of the strike knocked the Maori from the clutches of the two men holding him. The crack of breaking bone bounced around the room and the man tumbled toward the desk, but he didn’t hit the floor. Somehow, he found his footing and before Darkness realized it, the office door was open and the man disappeared as it slammed shut. “Don’t just stand there,” he yelled, and both men ran for the door. The one on the left pulled a snub-nosed .38 from the

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small of his back, previously hidden by his shirt tail. Nina followed them. He called out to her. She turned with a question etched on her lovely features. She was flustered and eager to join the chase. “Stay,” he said and quickly added, “Please. Stay.” Nina looked over her shoulder through the open door, then back at Darkness. She nodded without a word and closed the door. “I’m sure they can handle him.” She nodded. “Nick’s fast and strong.” “Nick?” “The one with the gun.” Darkness performed a quick check of Christopher’s memory files, yet found no reference of Nick. “I don’t know many of the workers here.” He shrugged, his lips turned upward into a grin. “First day on the job.” 2 Taka had to move quickly. He was in an ‘L’ shaped hallway. There weren’t many options. Straight ahead he saw an abandoned reception desk and a set of two elevators opposite it. He ran to them and punched the down button. The lights above the doors announced their present placement: B2. They’re both in the storeroom? He couldn’t think of a worse place or time for both cars to be on the lowest floor of the building. Time spent waiting for an elevator wasn’t an option. And this was enforced when he heard a door bang open and someone shout, “There!”

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Taka didn’t need another clue to move and bolted for the nearest door. A plate marked the room as the Boardroom. With a turn of the handle, he burst into a blood splattered room. A bullet punched the jamb. He was in a large room with whitewashed walls, unadorned by a single image. A long oval table stretched before him, in the center of the room. Documents were scattered across the top. Coffee cups sat opposite chairs where several gray-haired man were slumped on the shiny surface in eternal sleep. A few lay on the floor with throats torn open, another had missing eyes and a torrent of blood had run a river down his cheeks and over his chin. But the worst were his fingers...they twitched and spasmed, a sure sign of a man about to meet his maker. Spewed over the table, coffee from a knocked over cup, soaked several blood splattered sheets of paper. Against the wall was a narrow table with a coffee maker half full, the orange ON light glowed against the harsh white washed wall. Next to it were packets of sugar and powered milk. On a shelf below was an assortment of cups, each had the company name, Ball Enterprises, printed in large block letters in the same color as the blood painting this room. In the coffee aroma-filled room, the ‘twitching fingers’ man, gasped a final breath and lay still. Taka wasn’t ready to give up so easily. His maker could damn well wait. He looked back at the door. It stood wide open. From his angle, he could see the silver turn-lock on the back. He rushed the door and struck it with his shoulder. As it slammed shut, someone cried out. Curses filled the air. He tried to turn

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the lock but the door was not closed to allow the lock to engage. He released the door, freeing caught fingers, and the second it moved, he shouldered it shut and flicked the turnlock. A piece of door splintered near his head as a bullet punched though. He had hoped he’d jammed the shooters fingers in the door, but no such luck. It didn’t feel as if luck was anywhere near this godforsaken building. Taka dropped to the floor and scurried to the safety of the thick plastered wall. He realized it wouldn’t take long to shoot around the lock and open the door. At least this wasn’t a Hollywood movie, where one shot sliced the pin and the door exploded inwards. A quick glance around the room showed him to be trapped; it sent a shiver down his back reminding him of his time spent behind bars. The only way out of that place was time, but here that was a luxury Taka didn’t have. Getting to his feet as another bullet punched the door, Taka rushed to the window. It was a single pane of glass and very thick. No way in or out. Like the trapped animal he was, rage and fear built up inside like an inflating balloon, filling up every spare inch of his being, with no other thought than escape. The only way out was the same way he came in. Silence. Taka only just realized, silence had reigned for several seconds. Had they left? Went looking for a key? Or were they waiting for him outside the door? Another blast struck the door.

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Nope. The gunman had been reloading. Two rapid shots finished a letter ‘C’ design around the lock and the force of the last bullet nudged the door forward half an inch. A kick knocked the door in as Taka ducked left out of the direct line of fire. A bullet hit the window the instant he moved; white cracks like spider webs spread to all four corners of the frame with a high-pitched whine. Taka snatched up the pot of coffee without a thought as to what he was doing and charged the opening door. The gunman entered, he stepped past the door and his eyes widened in surprise seeing the large Maori smiling at him. He raised the gun as the pot of coffee smacked his head. Suddenly unbalanced, Taka took the opportunity to drop him with a swing of his leg. Another man stood at the door stood clutching bloodied fingers; his face pale from shock. This man’s eyes flashed from black to blue and back again like an internal battle raged inside for control. Suddenly his eyes swam in black ink. Taka stomped the fallen man’s stomach. The man folded up like a box lid. Air rushed from him in a sudden blast. With child-like glee, Taka poured the hot coffee onto the gunman’s face. He quick stepped away from the thrashing, screaming man on the floor. The gun instantly forgotten as the man’s hands went to his face and a bundle of curses spewed forth. Taka backhanded the pot against ‘bloodied finger’ guy and this time the hot pot shattered. For a full second the man stood with a dumb-struck look on his face before his eyes

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fluttered shut. His knees gave out and he dropped to the floor. He watched him for a few moments before being sure it was safe to step over him and into the hallway. An elevator chimed as its doors opened. He couldn’t believe such wonderful timing. Was luck finally on his side? He rushed along the hallway; from this angle he saw the open doors of salvation patiently awaiting his arrival. Something punched the back of his left shoulder, followed by a sound he heard far too often today. He leapt for the open elevator at a sharp angle, hoping to dodge another bullet. He didn’t realize the elevator held no car. Momentum carried him into the open space and gravity dropped him, but not before Taka reached forward and got a tight grip on the main cable. He couldn’t control the slide at first. The thick cable was greased. The friction burnt his hand and his shoulder was on fire. He tried to bring his left arm to the cable but it refused to move. Struggling to hold on against the pain, he managed to wrap his legs around the wire and, using his shoes as rubber brakes, finally stopped. Blackness surrounded him. Below he saw nothing. No light seeped through the lower floor doors. The only light came from the open elevator doors above. Two figures stepped into the light, silhouetted, their features perfectly hidden. But Taka knew who they were. “Can you see him?” The voice was strained. It sounded like the gunman. “Can’t see shit, down there,” he added. He heard the second man reply but couldn’t make out the garbled words. Taka realized he must have smashed out a few teeth with the wonderful coffee pot.

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Afraid of being spotted, even though it was unlikely in this heavy blackness, he suffered the pain of his cable burnt hand and inched lower as silently as he could. “Yeah, you’re probably right.” Pause. “Smashed on the basement floor.” Pause. “Why don’t you check?” A high pitched scream bounced off the walls of the elevator as a dark shape zipped past Taka, barely missing him. He froze in his slow descent. A second later he heard the thump of a body hitting something below. The cable he was on swayed violently and he almost lost his grip. Taka looked up. The man was gone. 3 Nick knocked on the door to the office. Darkness empowered everyone to do what they wanted. He was forcing them to break free of morality and paraphrasing Aleister Crowley’s words, ‘Do as one wilt’. Nick liked that. Nick liked Darkness. Nina answered his knock. She gasped at his sight and stepped back, welcoming him inside. Darkness was back at the window, staring down as if it were a beacon that attracted him and he couldn’t resist. The world was out there and Nick could sense the urgency in the man’s actions. Darkness turned from the window. “Your face,” he said, leaving the sentence unfinished. “Done by a dead Maori.” Darkness smiled. “Are you sure?” “Elevator shaft. Roger went down with him. Heard

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them hit the bottom.” Darkness nodded slowly. “Why was there no elevator car?” Nick shrugged. “No idea, sir.” Nina handed him a wet towel. “It’ll soothe your face.” “Thanks.” Nick took it from her hands but didn’t apply it to his face. “I think I’ll head down to the basement and check on the bodies.” “Stay,” Darkness said. “We need to plan our next move.” “Plan, sir?” Darkness said, “I need a right hand man. The job’s yours. Interested?” “Fuck yes.” Darkness smiled. “Good.”

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Chapter 20 Friday 1703 “I don’t get it,” Baxter said, climbing in behind the wheel. The van was parked on Oxford Street in front of St. Margaret’s Hospital. The police knew nothing, hospitals had no record and he had no idea what to do next. It was as if Henry had completely vanished. “Not there?” Shirley Wong asked. Baxter shook his head. Think back, he demanded himself. Remember the scene. What did you see? He looked at Susan and Shirley. They both watched him. Facing the front, Baxter looked out of the window. Instead of seeing the street, he saw the line of cars parked on the open road into town. He saw two kids standing at the side of the road. In his mind, Baxter slowed the van even more. He looked around, took in all details of the scene. Concentrated on all the items around him, saw himself next to the police officer. Two kids ran past as the farmer fretted. Baxter forced all his concentration them. As slow as the rising tide, their innocent words came to the surface. First the girl’s voice: “He looks like the ambulance driver”, then the boy: “So?” and then farmer: “I don’t know how the cow got out. Honestly I don’t. I haven’t grazed cows in this field for

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three months.” He turned to Susan and Shirley. “The farmer,” he said. “What?” Susan asked. “The farmer.” “What about him?” Shirley said, leaning forward to get an unobstructed view of her boss. Susan gave him a puzzling look. “What are you talking about?” “At the scene of the accident, the ambulance had been and gone. I didn’t think much of it at first, then I heard two kids talking and one of them said the farmer looked like the ambulance driver.” Baxter smiled. “So, what if...” “Why? What’s the point?” “You don’t think...” Susan left the sentence unfinished. “You think Henry was kidnapped?” Baxter nodded. Shirley Wong opened her door. “I’ll get the boys in back started on a search.” She slammed the door shut. A high pitched scream rattled the air, stealing Susan and Baxter’s attention. At the emergency entrance, a gurney rolled down the driveway. It hit a small stone and tumbled onto its side. At the top of the driveway, two men struggled with a man wearing a blood streaked, white gown. The orderlies were fighting a losing battle, the patient was enraged. Near their feet lay a nurse with a kitchen knife embedded deep into her chest. “Shit.” Baxter was out of the van before the word passed his lips. Susan was close behind. He bounded across the manicured lawn, simultaneously pulling his weapon free from its holster.

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The patient grabbed the hair of one of the orderlies, fighting to restrain him, and with strength Baxter had never seen before, lifted the white-coated man in the air and dropped him head first into the driveway. And stomped on his throat. Fear released the second man’s grip and he backed away. Baxter was almost there. He slowed his pace, lining the sight of his gun with the patient. “Freeze!” he yelled. “F.A.D.” The patient ignored him, apparently deaf to all commands. He bent down to the nurse and drew tiny circles on the breast of her uniform. “Pity,” he said. “All you had to do was accept the gift.” Baxter approached silently behind him, aiming the gun at the center of the man’s head. “I said, ‘Freeze’.” “A little licking, that was all. The new perspective is beautiful. Bright vibrant colors like the wings of angels. Every sound is sweet music to the ear. You missed it all,” he said in a whiny voice. “We would’ve been perfect together.” His hand moved slowly to the kitchen knife. “Don’t,” Baxter warned. “I have a .38 pointed at the rear of your skull. You’ll never make it.” The patient’s hand stopped an inch away from the blade. “Really?” he said finally acknowledging Baxter’s presence. Baxter pulled the hammer back in a slow even movement, allowing the full force of the mechanism to click into place. The sound was a strong guarantee he would happily squeeze the trigger. Leaving the knife embedded in the nurse’s chest, the patient straightened up. He was a clear six inches taller and

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wider than Baxter but Baxter kept the gun trained at the back of his head. The patient laughed. “Do you think that scares me?” Baxter took a step back to give himself room to move, just in case. He didn’t want to fire the gun if he could avoid it. He preferred to take them in alive, but when he did fire, he usually aimed for the leg. For some reason, he couldn’t lower the gun. He was going for a head shot, and inside he wanted to do it. Squeeze the trigger and end this crazy fucker’s life. From the corner of his eye, he saw Susan go down on one knee and take aim, her arm straight and her hand steady. Slow, like a well thought-out plan, the patient turned, and Baxter had a sight of the blackest eyes he had seen on only one other person. Eyes blacker and deeper than pen ink. Eyes as black as a bottomless well of hate and anger. Eyes as black as... “Darkness,” Baxter whispered. “My commander,” the patient said. Shouts erupted in his head; swords clashed; screams and cries of agony and for the briefest of time, barely a second, he saw a blade slide through soft flesh and hardened muscle. As fast as it happened, it ended. For the same amount of time, Baxter didn’t remember where he was. A hundred thoughts raced for dominance in his head, yet he couldn’t understand a single one of them. The patient shrugged and took advantage of the situation. He dropped to his knees. Outside the range of his vision, Baxter felt not saw, agents, Shirley, John and Thornton take up position behind him, near the back of the hospital.

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He felt something else as well, but couldn’t pin it down. A black swirling motion swam around him. “Echock, we’ve found him.” “Take me to him, Hern.” “Taelob will. I shall clean up. Some still breathe.” “Allow their breath. Send them back to tell of the defeat.” “Understood.” “Take me to him, Taelob.” “This way.” Baxter blinked. The voices in his head ended. Through the swirling black, hazed slow motion vision, he saw the patient reach behind him. His hand glided over the nurse’s breast and found the blade. The patient turned, looking away from Baxter. Baxter followed his gaze. Susan yelled. But all he heard was the pounding of horse hooves on damp fields as they rushed forward. “There he be,” Taelob said. “It be over Darian.” “Never over, till ye be dead.” “It is ye who started a war. That we can no forgive. Yonder field be awash with blood.” “Ye tribe began the bloodfest.” “We began naught,” Taelob said. “We disciplined rogues. Ye know that better than anyone.” “Ye killed me son and wife.” “Be it ended now, Darian. Be loose thy sword and lie ye face down. I promise, death be quick,” Echock said.

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“Do it now,” Taelob said, “before this blade doth drink thy blood.” “Good.” Pause. “Ye wounds be many and deep. How doth thou still take breath?” Pause. “Give me thy hands. This rope will no break, so do not be trying. Save ye power. It be needed where thou headed.” “God will unleash a horde of black on ye and tribe. This I swear.” “And thou shall no see it.” Pause. “Taelob, remove Darian’s eyes.” Baxter returned his sight to the patient, who had freed the kitchen knife. From the corner of his vision, he saw Susan move forward and her feet tangled in a sprinkler hose. She dropped to the ground at the edge of the lawn where concrete and grass merged into the driveway. Her head struck the concrete and the gun jumped from her grip. Directly in front, the patient raised the knife in a throwing motion. Susan scrambled to her feet. Reaching for her weapon, her eyes met those of the patient. They were less than five feet apart. An easy throw for someone with skill. Baxter saw the gun jump in his hand; felt it kick his palm. And suddenly the silence was gone. Sound erupted around him, destroying the black haze and swirling movement in one foul sweep of power. The patient’s head snapped sideways; bone, blood and meat pounded the nurse’s corpse. The knife fell from powerless fingers and clattered to the ground. The patient swayed on the spot as if trying to find some kind of balance and failed. The body dropped to the driveway. The open section of head hit

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with a sickening wet slap. Baxter looked at Susan; she seemed shaken but otherwise okay apart from a swelling on her left temple. Taking careful steps, he advanced on the motionless body. Black oil-like liquid, similar to tears, ran from the patient’s open eyes, draining the blackness from them and exposing left and right, light brown irises. Susan stood next to him. “What happened?” she asked, looking at the weeping corpse. Her voice was soft and filled with pain. The swelling was forming into a large bump; the skin was a discolored shade of purple and gray. “I don’t know,” he lied. “You froze, Tom. On me, you froze.” The accusation in her voice hurt. Baxter said, “I heard something. It stole my concentration.” He desperately wanted to tell her about the sounds, feelings and words, but now was not the time. He doubted if there ever would be a time. “How’s your head?” he asked, changing the subject. She stared at him silently a moment as if deciding if she would allow the subject change. She sighed; decision made. Her fingers tenderly brushed the swelling area. “It hurts a little,” she admitted. Then, “It’ll be fine soon.” Susan looked around the entrance. “Where is everyone?” The entire area was empty. No orderlies, ambulance, drivers, paramedics, doctors or nurses. It was as if everyone, including his team, had suddenly vanished, wiped from existence. Silence, heavy and eerie lowered onto the hospital. No cars passed on the usually busy street where the van

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was parked, no pedestrians, and no birds chirping. Nothing. Only the wet and heavy blanket of silence. Susan’s question was answered with a gunshot from the rear of the hospital.

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Chapter 21 Friday 1710 Taka took his time sliding down the cable. His hands were on fire, but he took the pain, he accepted it and he understood the deal now. His life or theirs. He hadn’t lived as rough as he had to die by a bunch of crazed suits and their helpers. His left shoulder throbbed madly. The bullet started to burn. The small metal or copper top sat amongst his flesh, searing a cubbyhole to stay in forever and sucking his energy. Mr. Bloodied Fingers lay in a crumpled heap at his feet on top of the elevator that seemed stuck between floor eight and nine. He remembered seeing a big TEN painted in white on the last pair of elevator doors he saw. And despite what he had seen in movies, it was impossible (especially with a bullet wound) to swing the cable enough to jump to the shelf on the elevator doors and force them open...there was no shelf, no ledge, unless he considered one centimeter to be a ledge. And Taka did not. Sweat covered his forehead and his hands twitched. The bullet was doing a real job on him and he had to force himself to keep his eyes open and remain focused. If he wanted out of here, his concentration had to remain at peak performance. Easier said than done. Bloodied fingers guy was lying right across the emergency hatch, and Taka didn’t really want to touch him, but

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there was no choice. To get out of here, he had to get into the elevator car, force the doors open and pray there was enough room between floors to squeeze through. He bent down to the crumpled heap next to him, slid his hands under the man and pushed. Straining, he managed to roll the man over, his face came off the top of the car with a sickening wet sucking sound. Even in the darkness of the shaft, Taka could see the blood and thick juices stretch and finally break as the head followed the body. Taka did not stop. He continued to push and heave the dead weight over a beam and next to the wall. There was no space on either side to push him off. A forceful kick knocked the man’s legs away from the hatch. Now, how the fuck did it open? He ran his fingers along the trap door’s outline. A finger of light pushed through the thin gap and Taka noticed the hinges but he couldn’t find a handle. If movies were to be believed, in the car, one just punched it up and it opened easily. He wondered how emergency crews got into an elevator car from the top. It was too dark to see anything for leverage. Fishing in his pockets, Taka found a coin. It looked thin enough to pass through the gap. And it did. He got it deep enough to force the trap door up a little for his fingertips to lift it clear. It rose easily. Something metal clanked against the door. Elevator car light washed the shaft and he saw the handle. It was the type that lay in the body of the door and was easy to pull out and use.

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“Sonofabitch,” he muttered, tossing the coin over his shoulder. Not allowing the trap door to open fully, he looked down in the car and found it empty. Good. He jumped into the car and heard the trap door slam shut after him. The elevator doors stood partially open. Not enough to fit through but enough to see through. At least three quarters of the eighth floor was visible. This floor was different to one he’d just left. There was no desk in front, just a longish corridor lined with doors. He looked left and right and saw the same thing. Not that he could see all that much. He needed to force the doors wider to get through. The place was silent. Since becoming a courier driver, he had been inside many buildings like this one, and they were always a hive of activity: phones ringing, suits moving from door to door, voices wafting through the corridors. But this place was silent. Taka slid his hands through the opening. The moment he put pressure on the doors, his left shoulder screamed. He fell away from the door, clutching at the pain as much as possible. His vision faded; energy seeped from him. Breathing heavily, he slapped his bruised and battered face with as much force as he could, sending a sharp shock through his system that overran the pain in his shoulder. His vision cleared. He needed this bullet gone as quickly as possible. “Dig the hole,” Echock ordered. Taka spun around in the elevator car looking for the speaker. The trap door was shut and no one was in here with

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him. He looked at the gap between the doors; saw empty corridors. Confused, he scratched his head. “What?” “I’ll hold Darian. Taelob help Hern dig. The tide be on the rise.” “As you command, Echock,” Taka said, surprised at the words coming from his mouth. Suddenly terrified, he banged his head against the doors. Fear ignored the pain ripping forth from his left shoulder, and with every ounce of strength he could muster, Taka pulled open the doors with what seemed to be little resistance. “Make it deep,” Echock ordered. “Get the fuck out of my head,” Taka demanded. He climbed out of the elevator car and stood motionless in the center of the ‘T’ shaped corridor wondering which way to go. The decision was made for him when a door far down the left opened and two male voices shot across the carpet. Taka ran straight. He rushed past all the doors to the end of the corridor where he found another ‘T’ intersection. To the left, he saw a blue sign marked toilet and to the left a red sign with the same markings. No stairway. No way out. “Hello.” Taka faced the way he had come. A young lady stared at him. “Oh my goodness. Are you all right?” The concern in her voice seemed genuine. She stared at him with soft brown eyes. How had she escaped everyone? “Sherry, who’s that?”

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The two men from the left corridor approached. One had green eyes and the other blue. Was everybody on this floor fine? “I don’t know. I just came out of Mrs. May’s office and saw him standing here.” “Hey, don’t I know you?” Green eyes said. “You’re one of the couriers, right?” “He’s been hurt,” Sherry said. “Get in a fight last night at the pub, aye bro?” Green eyes smiled. Taka ignored the racist remark. “Elevator’s broken. Where’s the stairs?” “There’s two more elevators,” Sherry said. “This is a huge building.” “Prefer the stairs,” Taka said. “End of the East corridor,” Blue eyes said. “It’s that one,” Green eyes said, pointing East. “Thanks,” Taka said to Blue eyes. And walked past the trio, feeling he should warn them, then had second thoughts. They had missed the action so far and were running the course of a normal boring day at the office. It was best to let fate take care of them. He headed along the corridor. After a few minutes he spotted the door marked, ‘Stairs’. “Oi, nigger.” Taka turned. Green eyes stood only a few feet from him. “How did you escape? Huh? You got the shit kicked out of you, looks like you were shot. Why ain’t you down?” Taka said nothing. His hands curled into tight fists and

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shoulders tensed. He blocked out as much of the pain as he could readying himself for a fight. Green eyes was a thin man with a soft face, but anyone who threw racial attacks as easily as him, had to know how to back up his words. Green eyes morphed to black. Behind him stood Blue eyes, black ink washed from the top of his eyes to the bottom and Sherry just blinked hers black. They hadn’t missed after all. They were searching for those that had. Taka backed up a step, his back hit the push down bar, opening the door. “You want out, nigger?” Green eyes said. “Let me help me.” Like lightning a forward kick shot out connecting with Taka’s midsection, knocking him through the door. “You like that coon-boy? How about some more.” Taka was against the stairs’ safety rail. Green eyes rushed forward. Left leg rose high ... and came down in a sweeping motion. Taka dodged it. The leg hit the steel rail and the sound of breaking bone echoed both ways on the stairs; the broken bone dangled over the edge. Green eyes screamed out. Taka rushed forward, grabbed him by the tie and heaved the rest of him over the stairs’ railing. He held him for a moment by the tie, choking him like a hangman’s noose. Green eyes spat blood on his face as he struggled, trying to swing toward the railing. Taka released the tie. He was surprised Green eyes didn’t scream on the way down. “It’s beautiful,” Sherry said. Her voice startled him. Taka had almost forgotten Green eyes had ‘friends’.

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“So, I hear,” he answered. “But it doesn’t work on me. I just want to get out of here.” “Why?” Blue eyes said. “The streets are full of our kind. We are the new race. It’s called Evolution.” “It’s called madness,” Taka replied. “We don’t want to fight you,” Sherry said. “Then back off and close the door,” Taka said. The two looked at him closely. “I won’t say it again.” In unison they nodded. “You’re missing out,” Sherry said. “Well, I’ll just have to live with that.” He turned and headed down the steps. He didn’t look back and heard the door above close. His pace picked up the closer he got to the ground floor, but something was wrong and it wasn’t until he hit the landing when he realized what was amiss. Where was Green eyes? No one could get up from an eighth floor drop. It was impossible. Yet, Taka had to face the evidence. No racist prick lay splattered on the floor. Taka realized Green eyes didn’t hit the bottom, he landed on the bottom. That’s why he hadn’t heard the fucker scream. He pushed open the connecting door to the main lobby and... entered a dark ocean night. The taste of the ocean was on his tongue and it felt invigorating, refreshing. What the hell had just happened. He stood frozen, hearing horses snort behind him. “Taelob, be ye fine?” He turned to face Hern and heard himself reply, “I be

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fine. Why doth we dig such a hole. Does Echock not know the tide be rising?” Hern laughed. “A beheading is too good for Darian.” He dug his wooden spade into the soft sand. “Get ye scooper ready. Hole be done best that way.” Taelob didn’t move. “Unless ye want Echock’s rage to befall thyself, dig.” “He only wanted justice,” Taelob said, using his scooper to collect the broken sand. Overhead, seagulls cried. “Darian started a war against us. How many hundreds be dead of his form of justice? How many new widows be created through this stupidity? What maketh him think he be victorious? Ye answer that and I’ll take his head before the tide doth rise.” “I know not answers for commoner’s decisions.” “Then hush thy tongue and dig before the rising tide takes us.” Taka watched himself scoop out the sand. He wondered who the hell this Darian person was. The answer soon presented itself. “Be it deep enough?” “Aye, Echock. Maybe,” Hern said. Echock dismounted the horse and pulled on a rope, dragging a young man across the sand. “In your final moments, Darian. Ye should walk. Remain a man meeting death.” The words had an effect as Darian slowly rose to his feet. Taka was shocked by the amount of wounds and the damage from his missing eyes. His face was slashed wide open

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across the cheek. The sack shirt he wore was blood-soaked with several slashes across its front and back. His legs also leaked life’s fluid. The young man looked like death. Darian was forced into the hole. It was chin deep. “Fill it quickly. The tide be almost upon us.” Taka looked down and saw water rush over soft leather boots. “Taelob, help me.” Taka turned and picked up the scooper. He helped pour wet sand, filling the hole and stacking it tightly. There was no escape for the young man called Darian. All three mounted their horses. As the steeds turned, the man cried out to the Sun God. “God has no time for ye,” Echock said. Suddenly, Taka was standing in the lobby of Ball Enterprises, the taste and smell of the ocean was gone, as was the sand and his leather boots. Standing in front of him was Green eyes, holding a baseball bat. “...And the stupid nigger just stood there.” He swung the weapon, connecting with the side of Taka’s head. Bone cracked. Taka dropped to the floor. Green eyes hobbled from the building as fast as he could. He raced through the doors and disappeared. Taka inhaled deeply. Lying on the floor he felt different, he felt like he did during the...vision. He didn’t know what else to call it. It took a few moments to notice the white light shining on the dark floor of the lobby, beaming directly from his eyes. “I be Taelob,” he whispered.

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The broken skull reformed with a sickening sound of cracking bone, the bullet pushed its way out and the open wound sealed. The bruises faded and swelling on his face sunk to normal skin. Taelob jumped to his feet. His reflection against the huge glass wall of Ball Enterprises caught his attention. He was happy. He was back and had a job to finish. He knew where Darkness was, but also knew Darian had more power now. First he must find Echock and Hern, and together they would form a battle strategy. He walked through the door to the outside world, where silence and darkness reigned.

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Chapter 22 Friday 1715 Darkness stood at his favorite position. He was beginning to like standing here. He was a god, looking down on the streets he was changing. Evolution in motion. Everything changes with time. And his time was now. Below the effects had yet to take on the viral system. He wasn’t sure what that was and Christopher’s memory banks weren’t reliable any longer. He had been in control too long now. Nick was the one to inform him about viral marketing and how he could use something like that to speed up the infection. He would find others wanting it. Not everyone was happy the way they were. “So, how come you don’t see what I see?” Nick said, on the other side of the room. He leaned on the desk facing Nina. His arms were crossed against his chest and the pistol was in the front of his jeans, handle sticking out. He crossed his feet at the ankles. “Don’t know,” Nina answered. “I see deep reds and yellows and neon greens.” “I know, you said that before.” “But you see only grays and shadows? I wonder what others see.” “Go and ask,” she said, a hint of irritation sliding out. Darkness turned back to his view of his world. He did

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not know why they all saw different sights in regards to colors and sounds. For some, there wouldn’t be the slightest change; for most, though, the world was going to look a lot different in several hours. A cell phone played a tune he didn’t know. It snagged his thoughts and turned him to Nick. “Yeah?” Pause. “Uh-huh.” Listening. A slight nod of his head toward Darkness. “You sure?” He pointed to the computer. “Hold on.” Nick pulled himself away from the desk and rounded the other side. He tapped away at the keyboard, his eyes focused on the screen. Darkness left the window and came around to the computer. Nina also got up and joined him at his side. All three stared at the monitor. “Saint Mary’s Hospital.” He re-sized the screen and dragged it to the corner. He opened three more windows and two showed the other hospitals: Saint Margaret’s and City Public. Only one window did not open. It remained an inactive black square. “Hey,” Nick said putting the phone to his ear. “Where’s Memorial?” He listened a moment, then laughed. “No shit? Crazy old fuckers.” He looked at Darkness. “No way to get Memorial hooked up. The old geezers smashed the web camera and killed two technicians. They are off-line. You want, I can go hook it up.” He tapped his gun. “Don’t care if they are one of us. Fuckers touch me, fuckers die.” Darkness smiled at Nick’s comment. He had such a way with words. “That’s the elderly hospital, isn’t it?” He looked at Nina when he asked the question. She nodded. “Forget it,” he said. “Three is enough.”

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“Good job, man,” Nick said into the cell phone. He pressed the ‘end’ button and dropped the phone onto the desk. “Let’s have a look.” He maximized one square: Saint Mary’s Hospital showed a near-empty waiting room. There were a few people on seats, all heads lowered. The camera angle did not show the counter. A couple of nurses walked down the corridor. One turned to the counter, a bright smile on her lips and eyes as black as coal. “Fucking great idea starting out with the hospitals, Darkness. Brilliant.” He nodded. “Yep, hospitals can be very busy places.” “Show me the other ones,” Darkness said, leaning closer to the screen. Nick clicked Saint Margaret’s. The waiting room was busy. Orderlies held people down, and passed on the infection. Against the far wall, two men attacked one of the nurses. One was busy getting to her eyes, the other was raising her uniform skirt. “Do you have a contact down there?” Darkness asked Nick. “Sure do.” “Call him.” Nick pressed a speed dial number and handed the phone to Darkness. It was answered on the third ring. “It’s me ... you know who. That’s right. Are you near Saint Margaret’s? Good. Go into the waiting room. There’s a man in blue jeans and a yellow smiley face tee shirt trying to force his dick into one of ours. Deal with it.” He hung up and handed the phone back to its owner. All three watched the screen. “There’s one thing I’ve always hated,” Darkness said.

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He tapped the screen gently. “In my time, power was pleasuring yourself against the will of another. I see some things haven’t changed.” Darkness looked at the screen. A large muscle-built man approached the attacker. He watched the muscle guy grab wannabe-rapist and violently twist his head a hundred and eighty degrees. Muscle guy turned to the web camera and gave a ‘thumbs up’ sign and calmly walked away. The nurse, her eyes now black, got off the floor, readjusted her uniform and stepped over the dead body without emotion. Near the edge of the screen, a man in a suit was thrown against the wall. If he wore a jacket it had come off in the fight, and Darkness saw an empty gun holster. He didn’t think too much of it until he saw a face he recognized. F.A.D. agent, John Dernaham. If there was one, there were others. They always traveled in a team. As if to confirm what he already knew to be fact, another suited agent was thrown to the floor. A young one, he didn’t recognize. A doctor pounced on him. The young agent managed to free his weapon and put three bullets into the doctor. He shrugged off the dead weight and aimed the weapon at the orderly struggling with Agent Dernaham. He never got the shot off. “Where’s Baxter and his bitch?” Darkness wondered allowed. “Who’s that?” Nick asked. “There’s a place,” Darkness said, his eyes never left the screen as the Asian Agent stumbled into the corridor, obviously shoved from behind. Her face was a mess of injuries, her nose blooded and lips split wide open. But she continued to fight,

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even when the pack landed on her. It would be nice to have her on his team. A spray of blood shot out into the air and the pack climbed off her. Darkness sighed, seeing the gun resting against the side of her head. Where the hell was Baxter? He turned to face Nick. “There’s a place,” he repeated, “that needs to be destroyed.” “Just tell me where, and I’ll take care of the rest.” “I would prefer you to remain here, but…” He searched for the right words. Words Nick would clearly understand. “I need you to ensure that place is totally de-fucking-stroyed. That and the building next to it.” Nick nodded. “What place?”

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Chapter 23 1 Friday 1730

Susan’s injury as well as the patient with black tears were forgotten instantly. The gunshot echoed inside Baxter’s skull and he bolted past the parked ambulance to the corner of the hospital. With his back against the wall, Baxter lowered into a crouch. He checked on Susan. She had her back to him, keeping an eye on the rear. He leaned forward, just enough to take a quick peek around the corner. The rear of the hospital held only a large truck-sized dumpster with ‘Hazardous’ and ‘Chemicals’ printed on the side. No people. No team members. One gun; P-27. “John’s gun,” Baxter said. “Anything else?” “Negative.” He leaned back against the wall. “This place is too quiet.” Baxter had noticed the silence before but it seemed more unfriendly now. There were no voices in his head, no sounds of swords clashing or drums pounding. Complete, utter silence reigned. Something bigger than what was happening now was either underway or building up. The silence was like a

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pressure boiler on the senses. Something bad was happening and his team was caught up in the middle of it. The moment the thought entered, the word, ‘Darkness’ whispered through his head and a shiver ran the length of the spine. After all this time, Darkness had finally made his move. At the thought of Darkness, the sound of drums came again, but Baxter pushed it away as best he could. There was no way he could allow a second loss of concentration. He wouldn’t freeze on Susan ever again. Baxter got up from his crouch. “Steel rear entrance door. Dumpster. Got it?” he said, knowing no more words were needed. Susan was always ready in F.A.D. mode, so he knew not to wait for an answer that wasn’t coming and stepped away from the wall. All his senses were on alert as he made slow progress toward the door. For the longest time, his eyes remained on the dumpster—unmoving, and his ears were alive for the slightest sound; toppled items, scurrying mice, harsh, heavy breathing. Anything that would alert him to the possibility of someone inside. None came and he moved forward at a quicker pace. Time was of the essence. He realized the patient was only a distraction. It was unlikely the attack was meant for them; his team was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Why a hospital? He reached the back door. Susan went to the opposite side. Baxter grabbed the knob and turned. No alarms activated.

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He pulled the door open an inch—bullets slammed the door above his head and ricocheted into open space. He spun around. Three men, with eyes as black as sin and each holding a revolver, stood in the dumpster. He pulled the door wide open, providing a shield for Susan. “Inside,” he commanded, taking aim at the only man holding his gun with a steady hand. Baxter squeezed the trigger. His aim was true and it knocked a hole in the center of the man’s forehead. Black tears fell instantly as he tumbled forward, over the edge of the dumpster and landed with a heavy thump on the ground. A bullet hit the door. He felt the ricochet draw a line of blood across his cheek. He fired blindly at the other two. One shot was lucky. He backed around the edge of the door as the center man tumbled over the ledge of the dumpster and hit the ground, twitching. Baxter squeezed off another shot, but hit an empty chamber. Reacting instantly, he grabbed the door and pulled it shut behind him. He didn’t turn around. Staring at the door, he opened the gun and inserted six fresh bullets. Baxter slowly raised the gun to head height with the barrel pointed at the door. Like a statue, he stood and waited. And waited. His heart beat hard against his chest; he heard the thump-thump and felt the vibrations rumble through his body. Behind him, in hospital rooms and unseen corridors, he heard faint screams, shouts and cries for help. Yet, he refused

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to move, refused to act, refused to do what he was trained to do. Nothing else mattered at the moment. Nothing. A long minute passed. A gunshot erupted from behind the door leading to the main hospital. Baxter didn’t flinch or look back. He waited. The bastard was going to come through this door any second now. He knew it. He felt it in his bones, as sure as night follows day. The door knob squeaked as it slowly turned. He waited. The door flung wide open. The third gun man stepped forward and froze as his head pressed up against the cold steel of the barrel. His mouth dropped open in shock, forming a perfect ‘O’ shape. Hesitation did not exist. Baxter squeezed the trigger, punching a hole in the man’s head. The back of his head sprayed the concrete as he toppled backwards. For a moment, Baxter stared at the dead man crying black tears. “Tom.” The urgency in Susan’s voice pulled his attention to the job at hand. Baxter kicked the dead man’s feet away from the door frame and closed the door, activating the dead-bolt at the same time. “Let’s get our team,” he said. Susan stood to the side and allowed him to take point. Baxter finally noticed the small room he was in. It was like a school football team locker room, but instead of helmets and jerseys, there were doctor’s coats and a couple of suit jackets attached to hooks inside several opened lockers. One

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locker looked a total mess, papers and clothes strewn on the bottom. He noticed a patch of wet blood on the side and realized what had happened. Torn posters on the wall dangled at weird angles against the pins meant to hold them in place. Several basins with a mirror above each, lined both walls in the next room. A paper towel dispenser was attached to the wall next to each basin and a foot operated rubbish bin rested on the floor. Baxter opened the connecting door, with a red flashing light above it. The sight that greeted him was something out of a riot movie. People dressed in robes and street clothes raced past the door without noticing him. Groups fought each other. A little to the left, he saw Shirley Wong on the floor and a pool of blood flowed out forming a red halo around her head. Boots splattered the near perfect halo and left bloody prints down the corridor to the right. He felt a tightness in his chest, he wanted to get her out and call someone. Who would he call? He didn’t know, Shirley was dead and nothing could be done about that. It took a lot of will power to break from that sight and get on with the job at hand. A small girl no older than five noticed Baxter. He watched the child with black eyes approach in small even steps. About a foot from him, she stopped and pointed a tiny finger in his direction—and screamed. Instantly a group gathered at the door. None moved forward at the sight of two guns. From behind, someone started to push to the front. The crowd parted down the center, creating enough

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room for John Dernaham to pass with a gaunt expression and eyes as black as coal. “John?” Baxter muttered. Seeing his friend act as leader shocked him beyond further words. “It’s beautiful on this side. Join us.” He reached out but Baxter took a quick step back. One of John’s eyes was swollen, all purple and gray and his left arm was twisted at a strange angle. He looked surprised by Baxter’s actions. “This is Darkness,” he said, anger coated his voice throwing his tone a notch higher. He pointed at his black ovals with his right fingers splayed wide indicating both eyes. “You can’t combat this. It’s too beautiful over—” His mouth twitched and the black drained from his eyes. “Oh my God, John?” Susan said near tears, having lost her professional composure. Baxter couldn’t blame her; he was close to losing it as well. In a strained voice, John said, “Can’t ... fight ... it ... too strong for ... me ... to fight. Run. Tom, Susan ... run ... now. Both ... of you. Get ... the ... fuck ... out.” Black ink flowed across the whites of his eyes. Baxter flinched at the sudden blackness returning to John’s eyes, ending his warning and silencing him. The crowd surged forward jamming the doorway, forcing Baxter and Susan back. Their guns swayed from face to face, ready if any should make a challenge. John did. Baxter put him out of his misery. The crowd started to get frantic, panic weaving through them; fingers twitched and body parts shook. Vast was the core of this crowd and they were ready to

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explode like a NASA rocket into the outside world, taking him and Susan with them. Like it or not. Susan. He’d frozen up on her before; he wasn’t about to let these fuck-asses have their way without a fight. A fight to the death. He took another step back. The crowd did not move, as if the doorframe was a portal few could enter. Baxter wanted to check on Susan, she was only a half step behind him but he couldn’t risk taking his eyes from the group. He heard the dead-bolt of the rear door click open and realized they had passed the lockers. None of the fuckers moved, none stepped over the dead, crying body of Baxter’s friend. A small part of him wished they would. He desperately wanted to put a bullet into each and every God-damned one of them. It would be a losing fight, but he would feel better as he fell from this world. He almost willed them to move forward, but they stood ramrod straight and watched him and Susan make their escape. Fresh air rushed in from the outside; dull light swept into the room. Susan gasped. Baxter spun around. The dead shooter was gone, but Thornton Whitfield leaned against the dumpster, his face a mess of bruises and cuts. Bald patches showed rough red, bloody skin where chunks of hair had been pulled out and his suit was torn and blood splattered. His head hung to one side. Death covered his

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features. Baxter stepped out of the hospital and heard the clank of the steel door as Susan closed it. Still not sure of his decision, he approached Thornton, keeping his gun at the ready. A foot away, Baxter said, “Whitfield?” No response. “Open your eyes,” Baxter demanded, aiming his gun at the agent’s head though deep inside he knew it was pointless. The young agent was gone.

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Chapter 24 1 Friday 1800 The bed broke. A jolt awoke Henry. He was surprised to discover he had fallen under the spell of the Dream Master, especially in his current, perilous situation. The split on his head from striking the steering wheel burned red-hot. He couldn’t feel any wetness. That was a good thing. His bed position was not the most comfortable. He struggled to reposition himself and managed to attain a more relaxed style. Gravity pulled him toward the floor, but it was bearable. A bolt of pain shot through his back, kicking his spine and drilling into his ribs. Automatically, he arched against it; his eyes squeezed shut trying to block out the agony. “That ain’t gonna help ya.” Henry tilted his sight up to the rough voice and saw a farmer in his early to mid fifties gazing through the window at him. The man looked exactly like a farmer should from kids’ TV shows he remembered. A wholesome, warm, friendly face. He wore a ‘Packers’ baseball cap with a worn out rim and covered in dirt and sweat stains. The coarseness of his voice belied the friendly, kidloving image. “You in pain?” he asked.

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Henry didn’t answer and turned away from the window. “That’s a fancy car you got crashed.” He waited for a response that Henry refused to provide. He waited a moment longer, then said, “Ya see, I been doing some figuring and I reckon a fella owns a car like that, can afford to pay for my cow.” In a louder voice, he added, “Me prize winning cow.” Henry turned back to the window. “Your fucking ... what?” “Ain’t no need for that kind of word, young man.” He sounded truly offended. “You chained me to a fucking bed.” Henry almost yelled. The man disappeared from the window. “Hey,” he called out. “Hey, let me out of here, you crazy fuck!” Knowing the man was gone, he returned to staring at the wall. “Motherfucker,” he muttered. Frustration ignited anger, and he yanked and pulled at the chains in a feeble attempt to break free, hoping the steel had loosened along with the bed. Exhaustion stopped him. Sweat beaded his forehead and he realized he was at the mercy of an insane farmer with a fetish for cows. The door opened. Bright light flooded in, searing Henry’s eyes, temporally blinding him in a vision of pure white. He blinked several times until the farmer came in view. In the short amount of time, the farmer had changed into blue jeans and a checkered shirt. Attached to his belt was something curled, but Henry’s eyes were still a little blurred from the stinging light that he couldn’t make it out. The farmer’s face was slowly coming into focus. He noticed the furrowing of his forehead and his mouth turned downward. The man’s blue eyes

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were sharp and cold. His cap was gone, exposing a thick mop of gray hair mixed with brown. “You gone broke John’s bed,” he said slowly, taking a step into the room. The Bull-whip curled on his belt came into clear view. The farmer’s fingers played with the handle. 2 Darkness stared down at the darkening streets. The traffic had increased in both lanes and occasionally a horn blared. The sidewalks were also busy with shuffling feet and people trying to avoid contact as much as possible. Streetlights started to flicker into life. He moved away from the window and crossed the room to his desk. Nina’s cell phone sat on the desk next to the computer monitor. Nina was on the sofa, her eyes shut. She was resting, not sleeping. He stared at the cell phone trying to will it to ring, willing Nick to complete his task and call with a message of success. Father’s property was not easy to get into. The security was tough; it was even harder to get out. And if Henry was still in that building ... so be it. It no longer mattered. No protector was necessary. Clearing his head, he opened the desk drawer and removed a legal pad and a pen and listed known places of infection. The first was this building, next the three main hospitals in the greater Wellington area. He added the cities; Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill, where he sent the Area Consultants, knowing the smaller surrounding

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towns and suburbs would fall quickly. Next on the list he added the City Library (fifteen infected had been sent there), movie theater and the Amusement Arcade. All were high traffic locations. He scribbled the word Mall, and circled it several times—this was the main target, the highest concentration of people. He had already begun plans on it. The guards would be the first infected and they would lock the doors. No escape. A lot of running, a lot of screaming, no problem. Beautiful. He wanted to go there now, but experience had taught him to wait. Darkness had learned patience a long time ago. Below Mall, he wrote Prison, then changed his mind and crossed it out. He didn’t need them; there were enough bad seeds walking the streets for his needs. He realized though, someone would eventually enter the prison and release the hordes and that could be a problem. “Nina?” Her eyes snapped open, alert instantly and full of life, full of Darkness. She moved into a sitting position and glanced around the room. He waited until her eyes met his. “How many prisons in this fine town?” Nina’s forehead crinkled in thought. “Uh, two. There’s the main prison and part of a wacko hospital has a prison hospital.” He smiled at the term, wacko hospital. Nina sure didn’t mix words. “Only those places?” “Yeah.” “What about kid prisons?” “Do you mean Juvenile Hall?”

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“I guess so,” Darkness answered. Nina gave it some thought. “Well, there’s none. Not anymore. They all changed to Reform Locations.” Darkness made a decision and picked up the cell phone and called Nick. The call went unanswered. He tried a second time with the same results. Turning to Nina, he said, “Anyone you know like Nick?” “A couple of people.” He handed her the phone. “Call them.” Instantly the phone rang, causing her to jump. The screen name showed: Nick. “Nick,” Nina said handing the phone to Darkness. He took it from her hand and pressed the talk button. “You didn’t answer.” “Sorry boss,” Nick replied. “I turned off the sound. Everything’s set.” “Where are you now?” “Awaiting the show.” “Change of plans. How many with you? Four right?” Nick took a moment to answer. “About seven now.” “Why?” “Well, I turned the guards and they helped me plant the devices. They’re set on a timer, now.” “Did you kill anyone?” “No. Bomb will do that.” “Okay, I want you to hit the prison. Convert the guards. Then shoot every single prisoner in the head.” “Why not convert them?” “Don’t ever question me, Nick.” Darkness’s tone was

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harsh. “Never. Do you understand?” “Yes, sir.” “When that’s done, head over to,” he looked at Nina and she mouthed the words he needed, “the Reform Location.” “The kids?” Kids. Antony, he thought recalling his son’s final moments. Darian ran as fast as his legs would carry him. The ground was soft from an earlier rain and it slowed him down. The embankment he charged was thick with grass, and several times, he slipped. At the top, he looked down on the village below. He did a quick scan for his wife and son. His heart fell seeing his son, Antony, tied to a stake. An Elder guard stood next to him. The guard was looking toward a tent, a sick grin on his face. Antony was crying. Darian hurried down the embankment. He slid most of the way, coming to a stop where the land leveled out. Not thinking, he rushed forward, pushing his way through the gathered crowd. Someone grabbed him. “Be ye stupid, Darian?” Catching his breath, he asked, “What did happen?” “Ye son stole an apple and ye wife be trying to bargain him out of trouble.” “How?” He pointed toward the tent marked with the Elder’s seal of two Phoenixes on each side of an apple. Both had their claws inside the fruit. “They made her enter,” the man said. Darian looked at the waiting crowd. All knew better than to get involved. But that was his son tied to the stake and

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his wife inside the tent. “Kenneth, I beg ye tell me, how many be inside with me wife?” “It’s ye son ye should be worried about.” “I be worried for both.” “Then ye be dead.” “We be friends many years, Kenneth. I would help if ye child be there.” Kenneth looked at the ground. “They be the Elder’s guards. There be naught to do.” “There be something I can do.” Darian spat on the ground. “Give me ye sword.” Kenneth didn’t move. “I have nary a weapon.” Darian waited. He clapped his hand on his friend’s shoulder, knowing he was trying to protect him. “Me friend. I shall steal ye sword.” And he took it without contest. He turned to the tent and said, “Ye should leave.” And with that, he strode forward and angled around the back of the tent. “Stop fighting woman, or ye son dies.” Silence. “That be better. Know thy place, whore. For it be under me!” A group laughed. “Ye body be nice.” “Stop ye talking and get to the whore. Others be waiting,” another said. It was followed by grunts of agreement. “Aye, hold her legs wide.” Darian stood up. The tent was made of thin material and he could just make out shadows of the men, and a blurred image of his wife, Heather, on the cold, damp ground. Two men moved to each side of her. She fought them, but they just laughed.

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Darian raised the sword to the side in a stabbing position and drove it forward through the material and into the guard struggling with one leg. The scream was loud. The guard’s back arched; a shadow of blood hit the material. He quickly pulled out the sword and slashed the tent. Five guards looked at him shocked. Two wore no pants and carried no weapons. He slashed their throats. “Behind ye,” his wife yelled. Without turning, Darian flipped the sword to reverse and pushed it behind him at the same time taking one step back. He felt it enter and pushed harder until he felt it exit the back. His eyes remained on the other guards. They grabbed spears resting against the side of the tent. Darian pulled out the sword. A knife flew past him. The hilt hit a guard’s forehead. Darian turned to his wife. “Clothe yeself and be quick at it woman.” His attention went back to the guards, as two spears slid through the air, powered by the strength of the men holding the ends. He parried them to the side easily. They swept back in his direction almost instantly. He swung the sword in an underarm arch, stepped forward and drove his sword into the right side guard. The second spear came crashing down. He blocked it with his forearm and impaled the sword’s blade into the guard’s throat and twisted it. One guard was left. Behind the closed tent flaps, his son was tied to a stake with the one remaining guard posted. With all the fighting, the guard hadn’t helped. He remained outside. Why?

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Darian checked on Heather. She was almost dressed. Tears streamed down her face. He would comfort her later and opened the tent flaps with a direct line of sight to his son, still tied to the stake. The guard was nowhere in sight. Everyone was looking at him. He approached his son, hand gripped tightly on the sword and raised. The crowd on his left moved and he saw the guard with a sword sticking out of his gut and Kenneth holding the instrument of death. “I think ye shall be the one that untie ye boy.” Kenneth smiled, exposing a set of black teeth. From the rear of his pants, he removed a small dagger and tossed it to Darian, who swiped it from the air easily. “Thank be to ye,” he said and went behind the stake and freed his son. They embraced. Nine-year-old Antony cried in his arms. “Me takeif nigh but an apple,” he said. A scream erupted from inside the tent. Heather staggered out, blood covered her mid-section and flowed down her dress from an arrow. The large steel bolt had pushed through her slender body. She managed a few steps when another arrow ripped out of her forehead. Darian was frozen. Heather swayed slightly, her eyes locked on him, until she dropped heavily to the ground. He struggled to breath, holding his son tight and keeping his eyes from his fallen mother. A guard stepped from the tent. His face was covered in blood and a gash was open in his stomach. In his hand, he held a loaded crossbow and his face held a smile of triumph.

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Without aiming, the guard let the arrow free. It sliced through the air. Antony went rigid, stumbling back a step from his father. A steel arrow was embedded deep in his back. Darian screamed. The rage building up inside shook his hands until he made them into fists. He did not see the guard standing there. He did not see his child fall. He saw the three Warlocks. He saw red. He saw revenge, hatred and death. He saw his life. He saw what he had to do. Darian dropped to his knees at his son’s side. Blood bubbled from the boy’s mouth. He gripped his father’s hand. “Antony,” he whispered. The grip on his hand relaxed. Eyes without life stared up at the cloudless sky. Darian pulled the arrow free. “By the will of God...” he muttered, leaving the rest of the sentence unspoken. He turned to the guard. Rage bubbled in his veins. The crowd had taken him down and held him firmly on the ground. Darian approached slowly, realizing these villagers were on his side. “Hold him,” he commanded and entered the tent. He returned a minute later with a parchment. On it he had scribbled a message: Be ye ready. He knelt next to the guard. “Return to ye masters with this message.” Darian pushed the arrow through the parchment and slammed it into the guard’s chest. “Be ’im up on a horse. It be taking ’im home,” he commanded anyone listening. He stood up and looked to his wife and son. “Thy Elders be to pay,” he promised.

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“Hey,” Nick said. “You still there?” Darkness shook the memory free. “I’m here,” he said. “So like what, do you want the kids to get the same as the prisoners?” “No,” he answered instantly. “Hurt no child but convert them.” “And then?” Darkness smiled. “Send them home.” “You sir, are a bloody genius.” Nick killed the connection. 3 Henry watched the farmer step closer. “I’m figuring we head off to your bank and get my money for the cow. Then I can let you go.” “What makes you think I won’t go running to the cops?” “You won’t if ya know what’s good for ya.” The farmer turned to the open door. “Thad,” he hollered. A car’s headlights washed the window and a horn gave two quick toots. The farmer’s face paled slightly. “Oh no. Guests are early.” Party? Hadn’t the lady said something like that before? Henry realized the farmer’s clothes were a costume. Thad entered and Henry realized his clothes were not a costume. The boy looked menacing. Thick stubble covered his chin and cheeks almost to the point go being called a beard. His eyes were small and bright blue. Stubble also covered his head. A swastika tattoo graced both shoulders and the top of a third

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could be seen poking through the black singlet. His face held rough features that made his eyes seem all the more powerful and foreboding. Thad was not a boy. Thad was a Buick. Thad removed a Colt .45 from the back of his jeans. Thad smiled; his teeth had been filed into points. Thad was an animal. “Unlock the fool, before the guests get inside.” “Okay, Dad.” Henry heard the front door open and the lady greeting someone. “Help!” he screamed. Thad’s speed surprised Henry. In a second, he had slammed the door shut, crossed the room, dropped onto one knee and slammed his fist hard on Henry’s nose, smashing it. Blood sprayed his chin. His eyes instantly watered. “I’m going to kill you,” Henry whispered. Thad smiled at him. The room’s door opened a crack. Thad’s hand went instantly into Henry’s mouth and clamped down on the lower jaw. Henry dug his teeth in. “What’s going on in here?” “Nothing, Ma,” Thad said with a cocky smile on his face. “Just keep it down in there boys.” “Sorry, Ma.” The door closed. “Here,” the farmer said. “Unlock him.” Thad yanked his bleeding hand from Henry’s mouth. His teeth had dug deep, yet Thad didn’t seem to notice. He snatched the keys from his father and freed the padlock, keeping a tight hold on the chains.

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Henry struggled, trying to wriggle free. Thad released the chains, drove a right hook across Henry’s chin and flipped him over onto his stomach and planted a knee in the small of his back. “Cuff him, Dad. Little race traitor’s gonna be a problem.” Henry was barely conscious. The pressure on his back was immense. The Buick weighed a ton; he could barely breathe. He was foolish fighting like this. He couldn’t beat the guy without an advantage and besides they were going to drive him into town. That’s where he wanted to be. Darkness was there. Darkness. He’d promised to look after Henry. Said no more harm would come to him. Agent Baxter was right. Darkness hadn’t come for him, hadn’t helped him when he really needed it. Darkness had lied. Someone thumped the door. Cold steel touched Henry’s wrist. Suddenly it was gone. “What was that?” the farmer asked. Henry heard him walk to the door and struggled once again hoping to break free. Thad placed the barrel of the Colt against his right temple. “If you want to die now, motherfucker, one bullet is well worth the price of one fat cow.” “Hi Laura.” Pause. “What’s wrong?” “It’s beautiful,” a woman said. “What’s that?” Pause. “Let go of my arm. Laura, what in the name of—” The door slammed shut. “Dad?” Thad rose off Henry and took a few steps

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toward the door. Henry rolled onto his back and stood up. He wiped the blood from his swelling nose and sucked air through his teeth. The pain was intense. Anger boiled inside, tensing his muscles and curling his fingers into tight fists. The bedroom door opened. “Ma? What’s wrong with your eyes?” His mother grabbed him, lifted him off the floor easily. She tossed him against the wall. Thad’s Colt dropped to the floor. Music started booming from another room. Within a second she was kneeling in front of her son and holding open his eyelids. Henry watched her. “It’s started,” he muttered to himself and walked to the abandoned Colt. It felt good in his hands. It wasn’t his lovely Glock, but it would do for now. The mother got off her son who panted like he’d just finished a one mile sprint. Mother cocked her head to one side as she watched him. “Doesn’t work the same on all people,” Henry said. The mother turned to face him, her black eyes bored into him. He wasn’t afraid. The mother took a step toward him as three cars rolled up the driveway. Doors opened and slammed shut. The doorbell rang. “We got a lot of beer!” someone called. A female voice added: “And wine.” “Let your guests in,” Henry said. The mother stared at him. He raised the gun to her forehead. “Now.” Abruptly she turned for the door. At the frame, she said, “You better run. One of us will come for you soon.” Henry nodded as she closed the door on her way out.

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Someone screamed. Someone swore. Breaking glass. Then just the sound of music. Thad’s breathing had slowed. His eyes were closed as he struggled to stand. His whole body was limp. Henry watched him closely. Thad growled, low and guttural. He aimed at the Neo-Nazi’s head. “You’re one sick puppy.” His finger massaged the tender steel trigger. Suddenly Thad went rigid. His eyes snapped open. Red eyes of hate stared at Henry. “Fuck me.” He squeezed the trigger. A split second before the sound came, Thad moved to the other side of the room. The bullet punched the plaster wall. Henry spun. Thad swept past him. His fist knocked Henry off his feet, sending him back onto the bed. The Buick was laughing. He fired three shots. Each missed. Thad was too fast. He had to get up close and personal. Henry got to his feet. “What’s the matter? Can’t face me like a man?” Thad was too fast. Henry saw only a blur of color. Suddenly he was off his feet and thrown against the wall. He landed on the twisted metal bed frame. Hot pain zigzagged up his side. Thick fingers wrapped around his throat. He was hoisted up and pinned to the wall. Red eyes a couple of inches away from his. Thad hissed. His head moved back, then shot forward, smacking into Henry. The finger’s released him and he dropped heavily to the floor. The Colt still in his hand. Drums pounded heavily in his head. He felt himself drift away, leaving his body, but all he saw behind his closed

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eyes was black. Pure, cold black. Nothing else. A voice whispered inside his head, “Accept.” “I accept,” Henry muttered. Thad laughed. From the blackness, Henry felt himself being pulled away from it and back to the world of pain. Only he didn’t feel the pain as he had before. He knew it was there, like wearing underwear, it was practically invisible. Thad grabbed his hair and violently twisted his head to the side, exposing the purple fat pulsing vein in his neck. It throbbed with each rapid heartbeat. Henry opened his eyes, white light shot forward. His hand came up, grabbed Thad by the throat and tossed him against the wall. He jumped to his feet. White light washed Thad’s face, overpowered the red. Thad charged him; Henry stepped easily out of the way. “Wow, you’re fast.” He smiled. “I’m faster.” Before Thad could react, his head hit the ceiling and he was bounced across the room, tumbling across the floor. His back whacked the wall, creating a hole the size of his body. “What are you?” “Thad, Thad, Thad. The question is, what are you? Ask the Gatekeeper; I’m sure he’ll explain everything.” He raised the Colt and fired. “And frankly I don’t care.” Thad’s head snapped back. Instantly red tears dripped from his eyes. From another room, party shouts erupted forth. The music was loud but the shouts and cat calls were louder. Someone whooped for joy. “Pour wine over them lovely mountains!”

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Henry pulled open the curtains. There had to be at least 30 cars in the driveway and parked on the lawn. How many people were here? “Yeah baby! Rub it!” “That is heaven!” “I can do that as well,” said a woman’s voice. He turned from the window. And noticed a mirror. He went to it and checked his reflection. His eyes were white orbs. The light inside pulsed. “Normal eyes,” he whispered and the light faded. “Ride my face, baby!” “Is that a fucking orgy?” he asked the mirror. “The infection doesn’t do that to you, does it?” A voice inside his head said, “How does he pass it on?” Henry stared dumbly at his reflection. I’ve lost my mind, he thought, but replied, “I’m not sure. I think he licks the eyes.” “Of course, it’s the fastest way to the brain.” Silence in his head reigned for a moment. Then it asked, “Do they all cry when they die?” “How the fuck would I know? You saw what I saw.” Henry leaned forward in the mirror. He lifted his eyelids. “Who are you?” “I am two of three. My name be Hern.” Henry asked, “Like the pagan God?” The voice sighed. “Let me teach you, Henry, who we used to be. Close your eyes.” “Gotta get out of here first.” “It’ll take but a second. Close your eyes.” In a flash of brilliance, Henry saw it all. The power, the wealth, and the sex. The wars, the mutilated, and the blood. He

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saw himself standing before a shiny piece of metal. “I am you?” Henry muttered. “Yes.” Henry put the colt down the waist of his pants. He pulled out the shirt to hide the Colt’s handle. He opened the window and climbed through as the farmer and his wife entered the room. “What have you done to our son,” the farmer said rushing to his boy’s side. Henry watched himself pull out the Colt and heard his voice say, “Same as I’m going to do to you.” He heard the two shots echo in the empty countryside surrounding him. Felt the weapon jump in his hand. The Colt was returned to the back of his pants. He had a feeling Hern had more control than he let on. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to be Hern, he liked Henry well enough.

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Chapter 25 Friday 1815 Darkness picked up the list and studied it. He realized he knew very little about this city. Ever since he had arrived, Baxter was on his trail; there hadn’t been enough time to relax and learn the ins and outs of this new world. He wondered when Father had created the F.A.D. When had he realized the truth about Darkness? Baxter had been on him like white on rice since his escape. Most of his study had been done with Father and his video cameras, his pointless questions, his fearful attitude. And he’d learned many things during that time. He learned Elders did not rule in this time as they had in the past. He looked up from the list and saw Nina staring at him. “What are you doing?” she asked. “Making a list.” “Why?” “Just keeping tabs.” Nina nodded as if she understood, but Darkness doubted she knew the reason for it. When he’d first gone up against the Elders he’d made a battle list. And at first, it worked. He had his men in the correct places armed and ready. But he had rushed when he should have been patient. This time he would not make the same mistake. Something gnawed deep inside him, something that told him there would be no second chances at this. He had one shot

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to make this right, one shot to make this a new kingdom for his coming son. He stopped the thoughts in mid-stride. Second chance? He stared at the pad a long time. The two words burned at him, setting a fire of questions inside. Had he returned and not remembered? Was that possible? He had been offered one chance and one chance only. If he had extracted the revenge...why was he back? Darkness tossed the pad on the desk and went to his favorite spot at the window but didn’t look down, instead he turned his back on the outside world and leaned on the windowsill. Nina had returned to her resting state. Did she realize how hectic tonight would be? His eyes remained on Nina as his mind returned to the possibility he had returned. If he had been sent back for revenge, why had the Gatekeeper and the black stallion, Black Death, brought him so far into the future, where the Elders no longer existed in a world of noise and machines? This made no sense to him at all. If he had returned, why could he not remember? Why was he back, when he should be cooking in the fiery pit of Hades? Something had gone wrong or plans had changed. But he hadn’t changed them. Darkness was willing and ready for the pit, he had made an agreement, and if he had been given his vengeance then he was ready to pay his due. A flicker of orange caught his attention on the wall behind Nina. A tiny flame in the center of the wall split the

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plaster as its size increased. No smoke rose, no heat assaulted him or the resting figure of his woman. The fire burned into a full circle. Chunks of plaster fell to the floor. There were no wires or support beams visible in the newly created hole, no dust or cobwebs either—but a forest, thick with foliage and companied by the sounds of birds and insects long since expired. He stared silently at the scene as it appeared to move left. The movement stopped at a shack, roughly built for shelter not comfort. Inside a woman screamed. The view zoomed up to the shack’s wooden, crooked door...and through it. It brushed through a sparse living room consisting of only a rickety table, three hastily built chairs and a small fire. On the flames rested a pot of simmering water. An elderly woman carried a small pan of hot water into another room where a woman lay on a bed with her knees up and legs open. Sweat covered her face and dampened her long dark hair. There was a knock at the door. The elderly woman said, “Arthur, ye stay put. A baby takes its time entering our world.” “But the screaming…” “But nothing,” the midwife said, her voice harsh. “Go keep that fire stoked.” “Yes, yes. Of course.” Darkness watched the midwife apply a towel to the woman’s head and heard her say, “The baby’s ready now. Ye need to be giving a few deep, hard pushes. Can you do that, Mary?”

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“I’m so tired.” “I know sweetie, but this is the end of it. Just a few more pushes and we’re finished.” The woman on the bed nodded. She gritted her teeth and pushed with every ounce of energy she had. The midwife rushed to the end of the bed to help. Darkness watched the child enter this world. The midwife used a towel to clean the silent child and hand him to his mother, who placed the boy on her breast to suckle. “I’ll go tell ye husband.” Mary smiled. “He shall be named Darian,” she said softly and closed her eyes. And Darkness realized he had just witnessed his birth. His chest filled with an emotion that made him feel empty and alone as he stared at the newborn. On the child’s forearm, a tiny five pointed star formed. Its color was that of yellow fire. His father entered the room excitedly and hugged his wife’s head. “Ye did well,” he said, turning to the child. He gently drew his fingers along the face of the child. “He be as beautiful as ye.” He kissed his wife tenderly. He never noticed the star that slowly turned to the color of the baby’s skin and vanished the second the midwife entered. Darkness spun toward the window. His eyes scanned the top of buildings, the mall and further out toward the countryside. His body tensed and his eyes narrowed on a spot far in the distance. “Two Elders have arrived,” he said. “Are these the same ones from—”

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“Yes.” Darkness looked at his watch. “I’m moving to the mall, now.” He snatched up the cell phone from his desk. “I need you to hide.” He went to the closet and pulled out the two dead bodies and tossed them like rag dolls across the room. “In here.” “I want to stay with you,” she said. “Too dangerous. Already there are two Elders present, and one more is due.” “But—” “Don’t question me.” Nina’s expression dropped. Slowly she nodded and entered the closet. “I’m sorry.” She nodded again and sat against the wall. “Stay here until I come for you.” “What if you don’t?” “By morning it will all be over,” he promised and closed the door and locked it, knowing the latch on the other side would let her out whenever she was ready. As he picked up the two dead bodies, intending to toss them into the hall, he stopped and looked at the wall. Weird. The portal was still open and playing the same scene repeatedly. And Nina had not once noticed it. Maybe it was for his eyes only? But he had no idea why it existed at all.

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Book Three Chapter 26 1 Friday 1830 It’d been a quite a few hours since Simon had gone to his room. Mark wondered what he was doing. Probably crashed out. Guy couldn’t handle the weed these days. They were developing so different recently. Since Simon got that job a while back and made new friends, his attitude to life had taken a fork in the road. It felt like they both took the fork in the road, only he took the left side and Simon took the right. At the moment they could still see each other but the road was widening, soon a bend would come and his best friend would be gone. He’d ignored it as long as he could. Nothing stayed the same forever—even friendship. Mark had no dreams, no strong desires. He knew who he was and was happy cruising through life and getting high, what more was there? Triumph 750cc. Oh yeah, baby. The best bike ever created. He’d never considered owning one until recently. The Triumph Boys introduced him to it a couple of months ago. The way they were headed, Mark was going to need some new friends. The Triumph Boys seemed the right choice.

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Tonight, he would join them for three reasons. Himself, Simon and Petra. He struggled off the sofa. BBC World was still on the television, he couldn’t be bothered changing the channel. And shit, he had to admit, sometimes it was interesting. The wall clock read: 1830 in large red digital numbers. Christ, what happened to the time? I zoned out, he thought with a smile, heading into the kitchen. He noticed the phone jack was out of the wall and remembered Simon saying something about it. He reached across the counter, grabbed the cord and plugged it in. Instantly the phone rang, shocking him fully alert. He picked up the receiver. “Hello?” “Hey man, still on for tonight?” “Donnie? Yeah man.” “Cool. We’ll pick you up in about half an hour. Grab some essentials.” Mark nodded, then realized Donnie couldn’t see him. “No worries, man.” “Right. See ya later.” He hung up. Mark stared at the phone receiver. It was really happening. For the last few weeks, he had been leaving stuff with his girlfriend, Petra, at The Triumph Boys’ lodgings. She was a wonderful girl, always happy and dancing around. She had light brown hair just past her shoulders; slender, tight body, clear tanned skin, deep brown eyes, and a tattoo of a Triumph on her thigh. She was near perfect and he loved being with her. He went to his room and chucked some clothes into his small backpack. He had a bigger one under Petra’s bed, so

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there wasn’t a hell of a lot to pack, and most of the stuff he could leave. Back in the living room, he dropped the bag on the sofa. He wanted to tell Simon that he was leaving, but didn’t think he could. He took a step toward the front door and stopped. Fuck it, he couldn’t just leave. He had to tell Simon. Had to. At the end of the hall, he knocked on the door. No answer. He opened the door and saw Simon splayed out on the bed. He closed the door, considered just leaving and decided against it. He knocked on the door, hard. “Dude, I’m out of ‘ere. Gonna meet Donnie in the square, then we’re heading off to ‘The Crossed Arms’. Meet ya there if ya want.” Simon didn’t reply, but he figured he had heard him. Mark looked at his watch. Donnie would be here in a few minutes. He had to get going. 2 Dipping out of sight, the sun finally gave way to the night. Mark was outside breathing in the cool fresh air. It’ll be cold come the end of next month. He hadn’t considered that while packing is bag. Even the clothes under Petra’s bed might not keep him warm enough. He figured it didn’t matter; he’d make do with what he had. He always did. He lit a cigarette and kicked at the loose gravel at his feet. He couldn’t hear Donnie’s bike yet, nor the others. He walked to the end of the driveway and looked down both ends

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of the street. The old busybody across the street peered at him through a gap in the curtains. He flipped her the bird, like he always did. In a way he was glad he was leaving tonight. He looked over his shoulder at the dark house. He would have to meet Simon tonight after all and let him know he wasn’t coming back. But first...the Triumph. He found the perfect bike last week and according to Donnie, they were going to get it later tonight. In the distance, he heard the rumble of bikes approaching. He dropped his cigarette on the ground and crushed it. Down at the intersection, he saw five bikes turn onto the street. Like armored horses they charged toward him. Donnie pulled to a stop next to Mark. The other four stayed a couple of bike lengths back. Lifting the helmets mirrored visor, he asked, “Ready?” Mark took one final glance at the house behind him and nodded. “You sure? Ain’t no turning back.” “Ain’t no turning back,” Mark said. He smiled when Donnie handed him the spare helmet. 3 Mark held tightly to the back of the seat, as Donnie took the turns tight and fast. The bike tore along the streets of Wellington. They shot through the quiet side streets and into the city. A few cars were parked along the street, up tight against the curb. The new mall parking lot stretched off into the distance.

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The town was expanding and had been bustling for a long time now, and this was the first evening he’d seen the sidewalks empty. Many shops had closed early; the ones open were empty of customers. A strange feeling wrapped around Mark as the bike burned through the streets. Donnie occasionally slowed at red lights, seeing no traffic he continued through. Where the hell was everyone? Courtney Place was booming during the day and rocking at night. It was the heart of the city. Behind him, he heard the other bikes. Triumphs were loud and beautiful machines. There was a certain sound and feel that made them superior to Harleys and Indians and damn near any other bike ever created. It was the appeal they had which gripped Mark years ago. Exiting the city center limits, they shot through side streets into the residential area, not far from the central part of the city. Donnie pulled up to the main gates of ‘The Triumph Boys’ house. Mark knew it was only nerves, he was entering a life he knew nothing of. He was unprepared, but he had Petra at least, waiting for him inside and she was the central pole to his new life. Not Donnie, or the bikes or the group. It was her; he was joining to stay with her. The best thing to happen to him. And she was similar to him, also happy to just cruise through life. The gates automatically opened. Donnie waited until they were fully open, then rode up to the back of the house. Scattered around the front and side were a number of other Triumphs. The others followed and parked the bikes in a line, facing the veranda of the old weatherboard house with peeling

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white paint. This was their spot in front of the large three level building, and everyone knew not to park there. A front kitchen window was broken and the glass above the backdoor had brown tape holding it together. On the veranda were a few very old and worn sofas. Mark enjoyed sitting on them in the evening light with his arm around Petra and her head on his shoulder. It was cozy, and he planned on doing that later tonight, after he had his bike. Mark was the first to dismount. He stood next to it, waiting for the others and followed them inside. The steps leading up to the veranda creaked loudly in protest to their weight. Donnie opened the door; a small bell attached to the top jingled. A few people were in the kitchen wrapping marijuana in tinfoil. They looked up at the sound but quickly went back to work. Mark hadn’t seen these people before. Nothing was said as they passed and entered the living room. A lot of people were here. A radio played loudly next to a television with the volume off. Three old sofas lined the walls as well as a mixture of mismatched soft and hard-back chairs. All seats were taken and some people were lying on the floor, sleeping, dozing or just plain zoned out. On a coffee table in front of the T.V. three people were cutting ‘coke’ with a razor. A couple of used syringes rested on the edge. Beer cans littered the floor. And there was Petra, sitting on a sofa squashed by two muscular men Mark didn’t know. He went to her, but Donnie grabbed his arm first. “In two hours, we go.” Mark nodded. Nerves suddenly danced in his stomach. This was real, and happening. His new life was about to start.

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Petra saw him and waved from the sofa. He smiled and walked up to her. She held out her hand. “I seem to be jammed in,” she said with a smile. “Help me out.” He grabbed her waiting hand and pulled her easily off the sofa. The two guys gave him a dirty look, but he didn’t care and ignored them. She was his girl, not theirs and he sure as shit wasn’t going to share her. She took his backpack. “Is this the last of it?” “Yeah.” “You all right?” “Excited is all.” Petra smiled at him warmly. “Tonight, huh?” “Only got two hours to go, babe.” “Great. That gives us two hours to waste.” She smiled slyly. “Got any ideas?” “Lead the way.” Petra’s room was on the second floor and was simple in decoration: a single bed, a few pages ripped from magazines pinned to the wall, an alarm clock/radio on the floor next to the bed and a pile of clothes in the far corner next to the open window. A small television sat on a dining chair in the corner of the room, facing the bed. Next to that were five paperbacks stacked against the wall and four DVD movies on top of the books. She flicked his backpack under the bed. “What did you bring this time?” “Last of my stuff.” “I see.” Mark smiled. “What is it that you see?” He pulled off his tee shirt.

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Petra ran her fingers across his hairy chest. “I see many things,” she whispered, tilting her face to meet his lips. He bent forward and they locked lips. She broke the kiss and stared into his eyes. “What?” Her hands rubbed his chest in small circles. “So you’re staying, then?” Brushing hair from her face, he said, “That’s the plan. Do you disagree?” “Fuck no.” “Good.” Mark pulled her shirt above her head, exposing small yet firm breasts. “Hello girls” he said, lifting and carrying her to the bed. 4 Mark rolled off her, his entire load spent. Sweat glistened on his face and back. It ran down and across the deep scratches from Petra’s fingernails. He was breathing hard as he clasped his hands behind his head and stared up at the ceiling. There was a knock on the door, quickly followed by, “Oi, you two decent?” It was Donnie’s voice. “Never,” Petra called out. “Then get Mark decent, you tramp.” “Hey,” she said laughing. The first time Mark heard them talk this way, he was not impressed. But he learned they were close friends since Elementary School and they were just playing around with each other. He’d never experienced this kind of relationship before and hoped this new life would offer it. So far, all was going

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good. “I’ll be there in a sec,” he said, struggling out of the bed. He grabbed his jeans, slid them on and picked up his tee shirt. “Typical man,” she said. “Leaving after he’s had his fun.” “Babe, I ain’t typical.” “I know,” she said, smiling. “Go and do your ‘boy’ stuff. I’ll be here when you get back.” Mark pulled his shirt over his head. Tucking it in, he headed for the door. “Be back soon.” “Later babe.” He watched her roll onto her side, facing the wall. She pulled the blankets up to her chin and sighed loudly. That was his cue to leave. 5 Donnie was waiting for him outside the door, leaning against the wall. He gave him a sly smile. “Let’s go for a walk out the back.” “Cool.” Following Donnie down the stairs, Mark worried about some kind of initiation, consisting of a hellish beating where he wasn’t allowed to fight back. Could this be it, he wondered. Down the steps, the other four were waiting. They each held their helmets in one hand and jackets in the other. Geoff, Jack, Eric and Daniel, Donnie’s closest friends in this group, and the top four members. They went almost everywhere together. Mark had yet to see them apart in the three months of

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his association with them and Petra. “So...” Mark said. Donnie held up a hand, silencing him. They moved easily though the litter of druggies and groupies in the living room and the ‘Mary-Jane’ packers in the kitchen. Outside, they stopped near their bikes but didn’t mount. Finally, Donnie spoke, “You know there’s no turning back.” Mark nodded. “Uh-huh.” “You and Petra …” he seemed to consider the correct word for a moment. Making a decision he said, “You two are ... tight?” Giving it little thought, Mark answered, “Yeah. I think so.” “Think so or know so?” Geoff asked. He walked around Donnie and stopped a few inches from his face. “You either know so,” he said stressing the words, “or you think so. Which is it, white boy?” Mark tensed. Geoff was the only group member he was wary of. The guy was the stereotyped ‘tough-man’. Tattoos covered his muscular arms and back. ‘The Triumph Boys’ logo graced his rear shoulders in bright red and deep blues. His dark face was tattooed with a traditional Maori design and it made him look doubly dangerous. All the ‘Triumph Boys’ had the tattoo across the back shoulders; Mark assumed he would also, shortly. Keeping the eye contact, Mark replied, “Know so.” Geoff leaned forward, noses almost touching. “Back off, man.” “Oh, you a tough boy, now?”

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Mark didn’t back down, he knew better than that. His stomach churned and nerves danced but he was ready to go toe to toe with Geoff, knowing he would be smashed senseless in a matter of seconds. Geoff didn’t act tough, he was tough. Gathering as much confidence as he could muster, Mark said, “I know you can smack the shit out of me. But I ain’t gonna back the fuck down.” Geoff smiled, a big huge grin that crinkled his facial tattoo into a mismatch of squiggly lines. He straightened up. “You’re a scrappy little fucker, ain’t ya?” Mark didn’t reply, he wasn’t meant to. He was too tense for any kind of reaction and his hands were still balled into fists at his sides. “Hey Jack,” Geoff said. “Yeah?” “Tell your woman to get his woman ready.” “Will do.” Jack was tall and skinny with a long face and sad eyes. He followed what everyone said without complaint and was similar to Mark in the respect they were both happy to cruise through life. On the rare occasion something had happened, Jack had been known to come out on top. He bounded up the stairs and disappeared into the house. “Get Petra ready for what?” Mark asked. Donnie searched the area with his eyes, paused at the dark regions, giving them a deeper study and checked the windows on this side of the house were shut. Geoff, Eric and Daniel pushed the helmets onto their heads and mounted their bikes. “You saw what’s going on inside, right?” Mark nodded.

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“They’re all idiots. See how wasted they are? They ain’t gonna achieve shit ‘cept a prison cell. We don’t need that. Been there, done that. We’re gonna get organized, my man.” Mark remained silent. “We get your bike, our women and split.” “No more Triumph Boys?” “No more low class idiots.” Donnie put his arm around Mark’s shoulders, leading him to the bike. “Bigger and better things, my friend.” He handed over a helmet. “You’ll see. For now, don’t worry about it. Everything has been taken care of.” The roar of the Triumphs booming into life vibrated through the dark suburbs. They gunned their engines waiting for Jack’s return. A minute later he charged out of the house, jumped down the flight of steps. In his hands he carried four shoulder bags. He handed one to Donnie and distributed the others. “Where’s yours?” Donnie shouted over the roar of the bikes. Jack tapped his left side under his jacket and climbed onto his bike, firing it into life. Following Donnie’s lead, they left the house and hit the road.

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Chapter 27 1 Friday 1935

Dr. Hayden Taylor sat behind his desk. On his keyboard were reports from field agents. Each of them mentioned strange attacks and black eyes. And the severity of the accounts concerned him a great deal. Judging by the reports he received, Darkness was working toward a goal. What the goal was, he had no idea, but hospitals, movie theaters and individuals, including the shooter had been attacked. There was a link somewhere, but for the life of him he couldn’t see it. He leaned back in his chair. Fifteen reports in the last hour. More would be forthcoming, he knew that for sure. Where the hell was Baxter? Hayden had tried contacting him on the cell phone and radio, both of which produced the same results: silence. Communications were down, and that was never a good thing. All he could do now, was to wait for Baxter to report in. The sudden sharp shrill of the phone yanked him free of his worries, with a jolt that gave his heart quite a start. He stared at the phone a moment. Not many workers were here at this time, especially on a Friday night. “Taylor here,” he said. “This is Shaman, down in sector seven, sir.”

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Sector seven? That’s the lab’s main testing site. A beam of hope washed though his bones, but he quickly reined it in. “What can I do for you, Shaman?” There was a long silence at the other end. “Are you still there?” “Yes, sir.” His voice was filled with barely contained excitement when he said, “I think you should see this.” “What’s going on?” “Sir, we have a major breakthrough.” “Are you sure?” “One hundred and fifty percent.” “All right. I’m coming down.” Energy coursed through him, he couldn’t control it. The scientist, Shaman, was excited and it affected him. Could there really be a chance, a real breakthrough...on the same day as Darkness started spreading the infection? It was a coincidence that was too good to be true. 2 Nick entered the prison and started at the top row and worked his way down. His revolver was doing overtime. The barrel was hot and a few bullets had gone astray. But, at least he was almost done. He figured the revolver could handle it. He walked to the last cell. He looked through the bars and saw a terrified young black guy trying to hide against his bunk. This cell contained only one. The others held four. This guy was lucky to have his own pad. Two terrified eyes stared at his black orbs. “Wh—what

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are you?” Nick raised the revolver. “Please man, I ain’t done nothin’ to you.” Dribble dangled from his lips and Nick realized this guy was crying. He was the first. The others shouted and swore, a few even tried to reach him through the bars—fools. But blubbering like a child, he hadn’t experienced until now. “There’s a new world on the outside,” Nick said as he pulled back the hammer. “Your kind are not welcome.” Suddenly the guy’s tears stopped. He wiped the phlegm from his lips and chin and stood up, straight and tall. Nick nodded. “It’s good to know you’ll die as a man.” The guy opened his mouth to speak but Nick didn’t give him the chance. Four bullets punched the guy’s chest. He backed a few steps absorbing the blows, raised his hand in defiance and flipped Nick the bird, before collapsing against the back wall and sliding into a sitting position. His eyes stayed open. Nick opened the cylinder, empty shells dropped to the floor as a large pot-bellied guard approached him, carrying a bloodied baton. “Sir, ‘A’ block is cleared,” he said. “So is ‘B’ block,” Nick said, searching his pockets for more rounds. He didn’t find any. “Shit.” He placed the gun in the back pocket of his pants. He looked up at three floors of metal walkways painted with red. Not everyone had been in their cells when the doors closed. Still, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. He turned to the guard. “Is there a ‘C’ block?” The guard shook his big head. Flabby jowls wobbled.

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“You got a family?” he asked. “Yeah,” the big guy said. “Go introduce them to the new world.” The guard nodded. Nick looked at his watch. Green lights illuminated the time, 7:41 pm. Only nine minutes to go. Nick wanted to see the fireworks and wondered if there was enough time to get within watching distance, but quickly realized there wasn’t. He was just too far away. Plain and simple. Perhaps Darkness would have let him stay if he had explained his need to watch the big bang. The two others still at the site were close friends of his, and he knew he could trust them to finish the job if something went wrong. Not that he doubted it would; together they had planted seven explosive devices Nick had never seen before and converted three guards. They had avoided the cameras, patrol guards and discovered some very deceptive fake backgrounds hiding the main building behind a wall. Nick was impressed by the security but worried about the power of the small black boxes they carried. Terry assured him they would produce a beautiful glow. The timers were chemical and when set, they mixed with another fluid, causing a reaction and ... BOOM. Nick really wanted to see that. He was disappointed to know he wouldn’t get the chance. But he had left in a hurry to follow his new orders, and left a spray of loose gravel spewed across the driveway to the entrance of the main building. Normally, he would have taken off more carefully, leaving a trace of his presence was not a good thing, but he figured the

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place was going to go BOOM seven times, what did a few fucking stones matter anyway? A groan wafted to him. He searched for the sound. The rows of cells on both sides held no movement of any kind. He listened intently for any further sounds but none came. A dying breath, he thought and headed to the exit door. “Oi, motherfucker!” Nick spun around. From a cell near the end, he could barely see someone up against the bars. “Forgot me, you murdering bastard!” “Then you’re the unlucky one,” Nick answered. “Open this cage, motherfucker. Deal with this brother one on one.” Nick smiled. “See ya.” “Chicken shit.” “If you get hungry...eat your cell mates.” With that, Nick turned to the control panel and switched off the lights. A faint glow radiated from somewhere. A security light, Nick figured as he pushed open the door, and entered the first of three abandoned security check points. He strode out onto a large field. A tall fence with barbwire stretched along the top to the right of him. Ten feet behind that was another fence. To his left was the main gate. Two thick steel doors and a guard box. Above it stood a guard tower, for all to see. For all to see. Nick checked his watch. 7:44. He had time. He ran into the guard box, stepped over the dead guard and opened the door to the guard tower.

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Heart pounding, he rushed up the steps and into the empty tower. He could see most of Wellington from here. Far off in the distance stood the place Darkness had sent him. He checked his watch again. In six minutes he was going to see beautiful orange light. Excitedly, he lit a cigarette and leaned against the opposite brick wall and awaited the show. 3 Dr. Hayden Taylor took the elevator from the lab complex to basement level four. Then took another elevator that opened onto sector seven. He was faced with thick glass doors. Using his card he entered. A ventilator system hummed above, recycling the air and keeping the temperature set at a comfortable twenty-six degrees Celsius. He approached the nearest workstation. A lady was busy analyzing a graph with eleven different scales and colors. “Excuse me,” he said softly, causing her to jump. A short exclamation passed her lips as her eyes darted to his ID tag. “Dr. Taylor.” She looked a little flustered. “We’ve been waiting for you. Dr. Shaman is in section two.” She pointed past the rows of workstations and glass cages, most of which were empty. “Straight down there,” she said and instantly went back to her work. “Thanks,” he said, but received no response. A couple of scientists watched him as he strode past. He

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nodded to each of them and was answered in kind. Finally, he reached the second section. Behind the smoky glass he could barely make out two figures and a large gray machine against the far wall. He pushed through the door and saw a partially naked man sitting on a long metal table with wires, attached by suction caps, leading to a small EKG machine at the head of the table. A man with long dark curly hair and in a white coat stood next to the EKG. The man turned as Dr. Hayden Taylor entered. A thick moustache curled up as he smiled. “Good to see you, sir,” he said, leaving the machine and extending his hand. “And you...” They shook hands. Breaking the hold quickly, he said, “You called me down here?” Dr. Shaman pointed to the man sitting on the table. “This is Dr. Rickets; he volunteered to be injected with the virus.” “I see.” Dr. Taylor took a step away from the man. “Why on earth would you do that?” he asked Dr. Rickets. “All the animals were clean from our latest antidote and all tests showed a hundred percent clean rate.” Dr. Shaman said, “We needed a live person to infect and test.” “It worked,” Dr. Rickets said. He hopped off the table and pointed to the EKG readout. “Back to normal. We had some strange readouts after the infection, but now all is clear.” It was then Dr. Taylor noticed the wrist restraints and legs clamps attached to the table. “How long did it take to clean?” “Only a few minutes,” Dr. Shaman answered. He went

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to a desk and opened the top drawer. From inside, he removed a jar filled with liquid. “This is it.” From the same drawer he removed a syringe. “And this is the applicator.” A sudden memory snapped into Dr. Taylor’s head. An image of his son in the cot, head hung low... “We are not sure how we can distribute this, but the machine behind me is brewing the next batch.” ... His son’s head rose slowly, as if Dr. Taylor were watching this memory in slow motion ... Dr. Shaman went to the large gray machine. Halfway on its side was a computer screen. He read the details. “Still in gas form,” he announced. Dr. Taylor heard none of it. In his mind he saw his son stare at him with eyes as black as coal. Dr. Rickets removed the wires attached to his chest and unhooked the EKG. “The antidote needs to be administered by injection,” Dr. Shaman said, leaving the machine. “By morning there should be enough to pass onto local authorities and hospitals.” Dr. Hayden Taylor nodded, the words barely registered. He heard them but they meant little. “That’s good,” he said absently. His concentration was on the other doctor, more than this wonderful news. The doctor took a shirt off a hook and put it on. He buttoned the front. Something from his subconscious tried to push through. He felt the usual confusion at having missed something. He struggled to make the connection between his son and Dr. Rickets. In his mind’s eye ... his son was smiling ... ... Black eyes glared at him ...

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... Black eyes washed to color ... ... A perfect disguise ... “Dr. Rickets, would you mind lying on the table once more please?” Confusion covered Dr. Rickets’ features. Suddenly his eyes narrowed. “Why?” he asked, suspicion coated his query. “I’d like to run the test one more time.” “We’re a hundred percent sure. I don’t want to go through that again. Honestly, Dr. Taylor, it is not a very pleasant experience.” “I understand. Not for me, but for the innocent people of this wonderful city.” Dr. Rickets sighed. “Fine.” And he hopped onto the table again. “That would require a re-infection.” Dr. Shaman approached the table. Speaking directly to Dr. Rickets, he said, “Do you accept this?” Dr. Hayden Taylor quickly and smoothly attached one wrist to the tie-down before Dr. Rickets knew what was going on. “I’d like the cure to wash your eyes first.” “What the hell?” He shook the strap. It held firm. Dr. Hayden Taylor quickly went to the leg strap, but Dr. Rickets slid off the table before he reached it. He stepped a few paces out of reach. “Dr. Shaman, move back, please.” The doctor did as requested, although he looked surprised at the sudden hostility building in the room. Dr. Rickets laughed as his eyes lost all color and filled with black. “Only one strap is tied, you fool.” He unbuckled the binding leather. The strap fell to the side of the table. “The core of the infection rests in the eyes, Dr. Shaman.

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A standard injection would not be effective.” Dr. Taylor took the jar from Dr. Shaman’s shaking hands. “It’s not in the least painful.” Dr. Rickets quickly added, “It-is-beautiful,” he emphasized the three words by closing his eyes and clutching his hands into fists at his side. Holding the jar, Dr. Taylor saw his chance. The only one he thought he would have. He twisted off the rubber sealed cap. Without warning, the doctor’s eyes snapped open and focused on Dr. Taylor. A mixture of hate and fear danced in the black. He shot forward, bowling Dr. Taylor to the floor. The jar flew from his hand and shattered near the far wall. The cure spread across the floor. Dr. Shaman cried out. He rushed to the spill and scooped up the largest piece of shattered glass and tried to scoop more into the makeshift container. His hand slid across the small shards of glass leaving a trail of blood. Dr. Rickets straddled Dr. Taylor taking focus off Dr. Shaman. “All I wanted was to go home.” Rickets raised his fist. “How did you know about the eyes?” His fist slammed Dr. Taylor’s mouth. “Who told you?” Another strike thundered down. “Ah, yes,” he said slowly, “your son. I’d forgotten that. He was the original wasn’t he?” At the mention of his son, Dr. Taylor forgot the pain of the punches and struggled to free himself but the doctor was too heavy and Hayden was unfit. His punches were barely noticed. Behind Rickets, Dr. Taylor saw Dr. Shaman stand up from the shattered jar. Cut fingers dripped blood. In his right hand he held a scalpel.

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The look grabbed Dr. Rickets attention. His eyes widened as if he suddenly remembered there was another person in the room. His weight rose off Dr. Hayden Taylor slightly as he turned. Dr. Shaman held the scalpel in a threatening manner. “Get off him,” he ordered. Dr. Taylor shoved the unbalanced doctor forward. He scrambled onto his feet, black eyes glared at him. Slowly, he raised his hands in a surrender pose. “Get over there,” Dr. Shaman said, motioning to the table. “We’re going to clean you up, doctor.” “It’s not needed,” he said reaching the table. Dr. Taylor got up off the floor. His face throbbed from the punches. He noticed Dr. Shaman standing too close to Dr. Rickets and was about to call out a warning when Dr. Rickets seemed to have read his mind, and spun around. Shaman slammed the scalpel into the doctor’s stomach. “Motherfucker.” He grabbed the doctor’s head and twisted it violently to one side. He yanked the scalpel out off his stomach. A thin sliver of blood ran across the smooth skin. “Sonofabitch,” he muttered. “Almost got me.” He looked up and spotted Dr. Taylor trying to sidestep out of the room. Moving at lightning speed, he shot across the room, grabbed Dr. Taylor around the throat, stepped forward and pinned the doctor to the wall next to the machine mixing a new batch of the cure. With one hand, he lifted Dr. Taylor off the floor. The free hand forced his left eyelid open wide. Dr. Taylor knew what was happening and he panicked. His head shook side to side and his legs kicked out. He

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thrashed and twisted against Dr. Rickets’ hold...to no avail. He fell limp as a knee drove into his groin. Now he was going to know what his son experienced. And it was only fitting, he figured. There was no power in his body, his balls throbbed and his stomach felt like it was filled with acid and cold fire. There was no fight left in him. Not a single ounce. He felt the doctor’s bumpy tongue slide over his eyeball. First the left, then the right. And everything changed. Dr. Rickets let him down gently and Dr. Hayden Taylor looked about the room. Everything was beautiful. Colors exploded before his eyes, white and gray and orange. And suddenly the room jolted, as if it had been hit from below. The desk overturned, lights exploded, instruments jumped from secure holding places. Plaster fell from the ceiling with streaming purples and light pink following it. Such wonderful colors. Such beauty. Dr. Rickets was yelling at him and pulling his arm. He could barely hear the doctor; the sound of collapsing concrete was too loud. Dr. Rickets ran to the glass door. It shattered in front of him and Dr. Taylor saw a beautiful red liquid jet from the glass riddled face of the now fallen doctor. He had never seen such beauty in all his life. The elevator twisted before his eyes as a section of heavy roofed concrete crushed it like paper. Dr. Hayden Taylor was thrown to the ground as the building shook a second time. A slab of concrete crashed onto the machine mixing a

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new batch of the cure. He wondered why anyone would want to exit this lovely place. A waterline above cracked, splashing his face in cold, beautiful blue water. A loud hiss escaped the machine and a purple gas filled the room. It wrapped around Dr. Taylor and a moment later, as another slab close to the doctor crashed to the floor, the beautiful color left his sight and he blinked rapidly. All around him was chaos. Fire burned in several places of the room. He gagged against the gas. His face turned red from the lack of air, choked thick with gas and concrete dust. Staggering forward, not sure what to do, he saw the emergency ventilation control panel. It ran from an internal power source. Using what strength he had left, he forced his legs over slabs of plaster and concrete and the destroyed body of Dr. Rickets. His hand slammed the red, ‘VENT’ button as he fell forward and hit the floor next to the crushed elevator. A loud groan leaked from above. Dr. Taylor rolled onto his back and watched the gas get sucked out into the open night. Air filled the room and he sucked in enough to scream as the entire ceiling crashed down. 4 Nick crushed out the cigarette. He had puffed it slowly, enjoying every drag; his eyes never once left the horizon. The moment his foot twisted the smoke into oblivion, he was

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rewarded. A soft boom reached his ears but he saw nothing. He thought the bombs were big enough to cause an orange ball of fire. Fuck he was disappointed. He had expected more of a show. He opened the watch tower’s door, ready to report the situation to Darkness, when he noticed a light purple cloud forming where the explosion happened. What the hell was that? As he watched, it seemed to expand. He couldn’t be sure from this distance but it sure as hell looked like it was growing, stretching against the sky.

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Chapter 28 1 Friday 1949 Baxter pulled into the driveway of the F.A.D compound. On the drive over they had barely spoken to each other, each lost in their own thoughts and memories. Baxter felt terrible for the way he treated Whitfield all day. Even though he had lightened up and started to accept the new guy... He stopped the thoughts then and there. The job was not over and time was running out. The van came to a halt outside the main building. Baxter opened his door and jumped out. Suddenly his senses were on full alert. Something was not right. It was too quiet. He glanced over at Susan, also out of the van. Her hand went to her weapon. Baxter pulled out his .38 and cocked the hammer. With practiced ease, he moved to the front door. His feet crunched on loose gravel scattered near the van. Glancing down he saw the small stones littered all over the place, thrown haphazardly here and there. He froze and slowly crouched onto one knee. Susan stood behind him, her weapon aimed at the front door. “What is it?” He didn’t answer immediately. Baxter took in the scene around him. The shrubs, gravel, the building, the steps. In his mind, the image formed and he studied it. Several moments passed before the error came into view. A small stone was

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stuck on the shrub. Carefully, he approached the shrub and brushed the stone with his fingers and it fell harmlessly to the ground at his feet. Baxter looked up at Susan. “Someone left in a hurry.” He stood, his eyes instantly went to the gravel lining the side of the concreted driveway. Two gorges in the loose stones were in plain sight. Now that he was looking. “Whoever they were, they’re gone,” Susan said moving to the closed front door. Baxter followed her up the steps. Susan was shining again. He loved seeing her like this, completely able to separate work and life. After this was over and Darkness was...whatever, he planned to deal with his emotions for Susan. He was willing to explore a more nonprofessional relationship. Baxter thought after all this time he was ready to risk everything. A lump formed in his throat. “Hold on,” he said. He knew this was not the time but he had to say something. Butterflies exploded from his nerves and pounding heart as he realized he was about to tell her; express himself in a manner foreign to him. Fluttering in his stomach, the butterflies had to be settled. The only way he could squash them and concentrate on the job was to do what hours ago seemed unspeakable. Another chance might not show itself. Susan turned, her hand pressing down the handle, released it. She turned her head to the side. “What?” Her voice was a harsh whisper. Baxter knew she was totally in the moment, in the action required, years of training not wasted.

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She knew what had to be done and Baxter realized he couldn’t open his mouth, he couldn’t say it. He felt like the biggest coward in the world. Her face morphed into a quizzical expression. “What is it?” Urgency underlined her words. “I ... um ... I.” He couldn’t. It would break her concentration and that would endanger the both of them. Baxter had to get his feelings in check until this passed. He had to take the chance that another opportunity would show itself. If they were meant to be together—as in together— then the right time would come again. He just hoped he wouldn’t miss it. Susan was staring at him, awaiting an answer. He frowned. “Let’s just take it easy in there, okay?” Susan nodded and reached for the door handle. He was ready, his feelings back in control for the time being. She pushed open the door. And was flung backwards into Baxter with enormous force, as a fireball rushed over them. The shockwave knocked them into the air. They struck the side of the van. Baxter hit the ground first with Susan on top of him and a terrible smell filled his nose. An odor he had experienced before. The building exploded. Clumps of mortar and brick smacked into the van missing Baxter and Susan by millimeters. He struggled under the limp, unconscious Susan. They had to get to the other side of the van. He crab-walked with her straddled across his body. One hand held her in place as he scrambled for safety. Her back pressed against his face and her arms dragged on the ground, but he pushed on. A small brick smacked her head as he finally reached the front of the battered

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vehicle. Finally reaching the other side, he looked at the main building. Fire leaped through smashed windows, licking the outer walls black. The front of the building was littered with holes. A second explosion shook the main building. The roof collapsed inward, taking most of the front wall with it. The explosion was followed by a third, fourth and fifth originating from the other building and under his feet. The second building’s wall cracked. The metal walkway twisted with a loud sound of the bending of metal. It broke free of the support bolts and leaned heavily to the side. A moment later, the ground shook. Hard heavy punches pounded the underside of the concrete. Large patches of land dropped from view, as did part of both buildings as the underground rooms collapsed. Baxter waited a few minutes for more explosions; when none came he struggled out from under Susan. She was still unconscious so he held the back of her head gently, keeping it supported as he wriggled free. Taking great care, he laid her head softly on the ground and reached for his cell phone. His hand stopped in mid-flight. Baxter’s stomach twisted, churned. Bile rose to this mouth and he turned away from the sight of Susan’s burned face and vomited. He had seen people shot, stabbed and crushed or worse in car wrecks. He had smelt burning flesh from such accidents. But in his entire career, he had never seen a person’s face— especially a person he cared for deeply—burned beyond recognition. The skin had melted and inner flesh roasted. Parts

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of her skull showed through gaps. A small flame twisted behind her empty eye sockets, feeding on the meat of her brain. Only one person was responsible for this. Keeping his back to the departed Susan, he stood. A tear fell from his left eye and something never experienced before emptied and dried his chest. He felt hollow inside. He knew the word for it: loss. He’d spent years building a forcefield around his emotions to save himself from such agony. Susan had broken through it and the pain dropped him to his knees. His hands curled into fists. He pounded the glass and brick littered concrete until his knuckles bled and he couldn’t punch anymore. Heaving for breath, he turned for one final look at Susan. The small flame had grown. It flickered through her eye sockets and jumped to her hair. He turned from her and rose on his unsteady legs. At first they threatened to buckle under him, but he forced them with blind determination to keep him upright and walking. With no destination in mind, Baxter staggered toward the second building’s driveway. His eyes drifted up to the purple cloud. Without warning, stars exploded before his eyes, his breath locked in his throat and energy seeped from his pores and for a second time, he dropped to his knees. He knew he wasn’t going to get up this time. He was going down for the final count, he knew it. His balance tilted and he dropped face-first to the concrete as the sound of drums and clashing swords once again filled his ears.

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Baxter’s eyes closed. He could take a rest now, just a little one, a few minutes only. But he knew that would bring death, and he was so tired he didn’t care. No. He did care. By a sheer force of will, he slowly managed to open his eyes as the sound of pounding drums called him. Smoke billowed all around him as he saw large rocks push out of the concrete, which turned to soft flowing sand. Dunes rose in the distance. The sound of far off crashing waves and the smell of salt perfumed air filled his senses and the sun warmed his skin... ...He stood atop a huge steed, his long sword sheathed at his side. On his right was Taelob and on his left, Hern. The horses stood close to Darian who was buried up to his neck in wet sand. They would leave him here so others may tell of his demise and not try something foolish. Echock heard the cries of the young fool as a wave washed the bottom of his chin and then pulled back to sea. He begged the Sun God for help, for vengeance and for the souls of his lost wife and child. “Even now he pleads,” Echock said as a small wave crashed over Darian’s head and did not pull into the ocean behind it like the others. “Must we remain, Echock?” He tuned to face Taelob. “Aye.” “There be much need doing.” “Aye. Ye be right,” Echock said. Seawater washed over

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his horse’s feet. Darian wasn’t visible any longer. He pulled on the reigns of his horse and rode off away from the sea. He rode the steed as fast as the beast could carry him. He chased a wind that did not exist. There would be no change. New Elders would arise after their passing, he was sure of it, even if they arrived under different titles and were chosen by the villagers. This world would always have Elders; they were needed. Blades of grass showed above the sand as the forest came alive from this point. The battle here was fresh in his memory. Blood gleamed in the rising sun but not a body could he see. Taelob had done a fine job of the clean up. In the distance, smoke rose into the morning sky and a faint smell of roasting meat wafted to him. The closer he rode, the stronger the smell became and he grew hungry. He had not eaten in two days but the thought of feasting on the killed was not a grand idea, though he knew others would. And he was correct. As the fire came into view, he saw many of his fighters gnawing on arms and legs of blackened skin. The sight repulsed him. He turned the steed in another direction to the south. Shortly he came to a small shack. Outside the front door was a commoner woman gathering wood for her fire. Her hair was white as the snow and her figure tight. “Ye know who I be?” Echock said. The woman turned. The breath caught in Echock’s throat. She was stunning. A woman of such beauty he had nay laid eyes on before. Her eyes were a soft blue and when she spoke her voice was that of angels. “Aye. I know ye.”

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Echock heard no hate or vile in her voice. He couldn’t tell if she was with Darian or against or whether she just didn’t care. “Where be ye husband, I have a request?” She looked at the ground and then back to Echock. “He be long gone,” she said, a hint of sadness tainted her words. The woman turned and gathered a few extra logs of wood and using her foot, pushed open the door. She paused at the entrance. “What be thy request?” Echock felt a stirring in the bottom of his stomach he hadn’t felt in years as he dismounted the steed. Her beauty captivated him, held his eyes prisoner on her slender form and sway of her hips as she entered the shack not waiting for his answer. “When did thy husband go?” he called. She did not respond but he heard her stacking wood inside and something was cooking over the fire. Something that smelled wonderful. He removed his short sword and stepped quietly to the entrance. “I request food and nothing more,” he said. “There be little at this time of year. Come I will share what there be.” The room was empty apart from a wooden bed, loose straw at the base and a quilt made of patches. To the right he saw the woman stirring a small black pot hanging over the fire. In the middle of the room sat a sturdy looking table with three chairs. “I be Rachel,” she said not turning from her work. “I am Echock.”

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“It be an honor, my Lord.” Rachel turned from her work and brushed hair from her face. The heat of the fire had made sweat bead her forehead. “Aye. Put ye sword away please. It doth scare me.” He did as asked. “Porridge be ready shortly.” Rachel walked to the table. She bent down and picked up a small bucket. “I fetch thee water from the well,” she said and moved to the door. As she brushed past Echock, he could no longer contain himself. The battle, the blood, the punishment had worked him into a frenzy of emotions and this beautiful woman was to be his release. He grabbed her by the hair, bringing a short cry from her lovely soft lips; lips he forcefully kissed. Her fists pounded his chest, slapped his face. “Ye know who I am. How dare ye fight me?” he spat. “Shall I hunt ye family? Slaughter ye bloodline?” Rachel went limp. He carried her to the bed. 2 Darkness reached the bottom steps of the building. He feared the Elders ability to return, traveling on the essence of some who could not be infected. As if he was destined to battle them forever. It seemed his entire life had been entwined with the Elders for some reason or another. Last time they had won, this time they would not. If they somehow managed to enter this timeline, he would destroy them with his bare hands.

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The Elders were evil; they had stolen his eyes, forced them out with a blunt knife and tossed them to the ground like rotten meat. He bit back the pain as best as was possible, but still a cry escaped him. A cry of loss more than pain. He remembered his wife and his son, and screamed for them. They were lost to him and the world. “Bind his hands with this rope,” Echock said. Darian felt it strike his back. He was on the ground curled into a ball. Pain burned where his eyes had once been, and he felt the warm flow of life’s liquid roll the course of his cheeks and mingle with the blood of his battle. Taelob bound his hands as ordered. Darian had no fight in him. It was over and they had won. Rough stones, and mounds of hardened earth and exposed roots of trees, jutted and poked his side and stomach, as Echock’s steed dragged him past the battlefield. The cries of those not yet dead iced the early morning air. He recognized none of them. He heard the hooves of a tired horse approaching through the death littered field. “Elder, we have let loose all that live and ordered them to spread the word.” “Good.” “Be that...?” “Aye.” “May I?” Darian didn’t hear an answer but he heard the commander dismount. He strained to hear more but there was no other sound. Pain racked his ribs as the commander’s boot drove forward. A second kick snapped one rib. “Because of ye, many friends be dead.”

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Darian’s broken rib made it hard to breathe. Short gasps were all he could take and he felt liquid rise to his throat with each breath. Gritting his teeth, he said, “They be lucky ones.” The commander laughed. “Aye, mayhap ye be right.” To Echock, he asked, “Where doth thou take him?” “To the ocean Gods of Darkness. Ye be welcome to join us.” “I thank ye for thy offer but must refuse. There be much to be done.” Darian felt his fingers spread apart and the edge of a dagger press the soft flesh of his index finger. He tried to pull away from it, but a second hand held him firm and a boot pressed down on his wrist. “As a token of my thanks,” Echock said. The pressure increased and pain forced a scream as his finger came free. The pain took his consciousness for a short time. When he came around, sand scratched his face and ocean air filled his lungs. Darian’s arms were stretched taut and Echock’s steed moved at a slow trot. He heard waves crash in the distance. He was finally at the beach and the sand against his raw chest was a blessing compared to the hardness of the earth. It was little comfort with his end drawing near. He didn’t want it to end like this; not with the Elders victorious. Darian heard Echock bark orders to dig a hole for his final resting place. In the distance the backdrop of crashing waves slowly came closer and closer until they sounded only a few feet away. He was pulled to his feet and half carried, half dragged

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onto wet sand. He wouldn’t fight it; Darian mentally prepared himself for the end. In his head, he gave a prayer to the Sun God, something he had not done in years. He prayed for his wife and son, but with full emotion, he begged the Sun God to disperse the Elders. Strike them down with lightning, godly fire, anything. Please, he begged. Please. He was forced into the hole. It was almost as deep as he was tall. Only his head was free of the coffin. Hern and Taelob were talking, but he blocked his ears from their words. His full concentration was on his prayer. His wish thundered in his head; over and over, calming him as damp sand smacked his face and body. The sand was packed tight. Darian tried to move but the sand only gave a few millimeters, not nearly enough to try and free himself. When the ocean arrived, the sand would grip him like a vice. The Elders weren’t stupid; they had buried him in wet sand. And as if on cue, the first wave washed over him. His prayers became voiced. He gave praise to the Sun God, he begged for vengeance, he asked for help. Another wave crashed over him, this one did not draw back as far. The ocean water tickled his chin and came to a stop on the wet sand. “Here me!” he screamed, knowing the end was only minutes away. “God of light, God of warmth and compassion, here me now! I beg of thee, hear me words!” Darian listened. Waited. Nothing happened, nothing changed and he was in the same position as before and the Elders still ruled the land.

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“Doth thee hear—” Water rushed into his open mouth choking his words into oblivion. He spat it out but more rushed over him. It drew back but left a lot in its wake, a promise of more. His mouth was covered and the layer of water sat directly under his nose. The next wave would end his short life. And for the first time since all this had started, Darian was scared. The end was here. As that fateful wave rushed forward, he offered one last prayer to the Sun God. Another wave crashed over his head. He struggled to hold on as long as possible knowing it was a losing battle. It was a struggle to keep his mouth shut and not take a breath. But his entire body ached for it. Why did the Sun God not answer? Were his ears only open for the Elders? If that were true...he would ask the other, the opposite. The Elders must go down, no matter the consequences. I be sorry, Heather. Antony, I will never forget ye. He opened his mouth, sucked in the salty water, felt himself fading, losing consciousness. His final thought was: Dark one of the ocean, hear me now. I offer ye everything, including the souls of three Elders. I ask for only one thing. And ye know what that be. If Darian had eyes, they would have slowly closed. His head went heavy on the sand as his bowels emptied and he ejaculated into the wet, cold sand. Life’s final shot at existence. Air rushed into his lungs as he fell through a thick blackness. His eyes were open and he could see again. Shapes of light and shades of gray rushed past him, or he rushed past them. Darian had no idea which way was up, nor did he

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understand what was happening. He brought his hands to his face and saw his missing finger had returned. The only thing he could see clearly was his own body, and it looked non-scarred, uncut and he felt no pain and no fear. He felt nothing. He hit the ground; a cloud of dust rose around him. His eyes were still open and he could still see. Above him zillions of shapes danced and twirled, collided with each other and entwined like a spiral of a church from that new religion called Christianity. He had shown no interest in it, the Sun God was the only true God. “Yet he did not help you.” Darian rolled onto his stomach and saw...a beast. He had no other words for the abomination standing before him. It resembled a gargoyle only more deformed. Its head was large and forehead jutted out like a shelf. Its eyes were tiny and bright blue and attached to its back, red wings were spread wide. Its hands and feet were like that of a bear. Pure muscle stretched the pale gray skin from its legs to its neck. The nose was fat and almost flat, the mouth had no lips and when it spoke a second time, Darian saw the jagged teeth. “We have answered your cries, son of Adam.” Behind the beast were two tall iron gates that rose high into the blackness. No, not blackness, Darian thought, darkness. The gates were shut. Joined to the center of the gates was a five pointed star inside a large circle; two points up, one on the left, one on the right and one point down marking the sign of Hades. On closer inspection it kind of looked like a goat skull. The huge iron gate opened with a screaming of hinges.

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Red light filled the space behind the gates and he saw a massive palace fit for a god, and realized it was for a god. Through the red light, an image appeared. Next to the figure trotted a horse as black as the darkness above. Steam snorted out its nose and fire danced in its eyes. The figure stopped in front of Darian, but for the life of him, he saw no features, human or otherwise. A walking shadow. It handed the reigns to him. Darian accepted them without a word. The shadow stepped back as he mounted the stallion. “Its name be Black Death,” the beast said. The shadow handed a black object to the gatekeeper. In his hands it transformed. It elongated; a sharpened edge showed and a handle wrapped in leather appeared at the other end. He handed the finished product to Darian. It was heavy but felt good in his hand. He performed a few slashes to get a real touch for the way it moved. It swung easily and in-tune with his body as if the sword was only an extension of his arm. It felt the way a good sword should feel. Strange letters were engraved on the blade, but he couldn’t read them. “It’s the sword’s name,” the beast said. “It will bring the promised souls straight to us.” Darian nodded in understanding. All he had to do was seek revenge, deliver payback for the murder of his wife and son. With that done, he knew the steed would bring him back here to the gatekeeper and then...well, it wouldn’t matter. His soul would be satisfied with the blood of the Elders. Eternity did not matter. And his eyes were back.

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The shadow turned to face Darian in front of the horse. Suddenly it jumped onto the nose of the animal in a squat position. “What’s going on?” A touch of fear rubbed his chest. The gatekeeper did not answer. The shadow jumped into the air, swirled in front of Darian’s face a moment, then slammed forward into his eyes. Darian’s head snapped back from the force. He felt his brain numbing; his eyes closed and head drooped forward. A moment later, he took a long deep, sharp breath and his eyes snapped open. He brought the sword to his face and looked at his reflection in the steel. His eyes were black. He kicked the horse in the side and it galloped up. Its hooves pounded like the sound of thunder as it climbed up through the darkness to the world above. 3 Echock thrust deep into the woman. She made no sound and did not acknowledge his actions. He didn’t care either way. Her dress lay in rags on the floor next to the straw stuffed, blanketed bed. Her breasts had bite marks and were purpling in places. Under her clothes, the woman was exquisite; her body a wonder to behold. Echock drowned himself in her beauty and could not control his lust any longer. He couldn’t get enough of her. This woman was pleasure in every way, he had yet to be sated. Echock moaned. He was near to climax, the pressure

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building inside, the need to let loose almost unbearable. A few more thrusts and he’d fill the woman. The door crashed inward. A stallion blacker than night entered the room. Echock recognized the rider. He climbed off the woman. Semen squirted to the floor and splashed his thighs. “Darian?” The stallion rose up on its hind legs, front feet kicking the air. It landed inches from Echock. Darian turned the horse around. Echock saw the sword cut through the air, too fast for him to do anything except close his eyes. 4 Darian smiled as the sword took Echock’s head. In a spray of blood, it fell to the floor. The stallion reared up and dropped down, the hooves smashed the bastard’s face. The woman on the bed screamed. From behind him, he heard, “It can’t be.” Darian turned the stallion. At the entrance to the door stood Taelob and Hern. They drew their long swords. “Ye be dead, Darian. The color of thou eyes doth prove it.” Darian smiled, raised his sword high. “I be not Darian,” he said. “I be Darkness. Emissary of death.” Black Death thundered forward, his sword was true. The two Elders died in a pool of blood. Darian turned the horse full circle, looking at his work. He saw the woman huddling in the corner of the room, covering her nakedness with the

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remains of her dress. “Do not fear me, woman. I have not come for ye.” He turned the horse to the entrance and rode outside into the morning light. He raced the stallion through the battlefields, through small settlements, letting all see him. He passed several friends on his journey but pretended not to see them. He rode to the edge of a cliff and brought the horse to a halt. Looking out to the horizon, he smiled. “For you, Heather and Antony.” The stallion reared up. It was time to return to Hades. The horse jumped over the cliff edge. Plummeting toward the ocean, blackness engulfed them. They stopped falling; the horse galloped on the blackness. Darian felt good. The stallion bucked. Not ready for it, Darian fell off the horse. He hit the blackness. It was solid as the ground he walked on. Black Death vanished from sight, taking his sword with him. He looked both ways. Down. Up. It seemed as if he’d been offered another chance. Darian started the long climb up... Darkness stopped in his tracks at the foot of the steps. The gatekeeper hadn’t sent him here to this time. The horse hadn’t brought him here either. He had climbed into this time, entered as the shadow at the moment of the car crash, where he had taken young Michael’s body and met Father. Why had he climbed back? He didn’t know. He had sent the Elders to Hades, yet they had returned. Why? Did they

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plan to drag him back? He wasn’t going to make it easy for them. Darkness liked it here. The 21st century was beautiful. He crossed the empty lobby and walked outside. The night air held a chilly bite; for Darkness it was invigorating. 5 Baxter watched a dead man ride a horse into the house. He saw the lower level Elders enter after him. Things moved fast, he couldn’t fathom what was happening. Too much information, too many swords, too much blood. And then darkness. Something hit his shoulder. Baxter spun but couldn’t see anyone or anything. “Where be Taelob?” Baxter turned to the voice. He spoke into the blackness, “Who?” A hand slapped his face. “Tell me where Taelob and Hern be.” The voice was filled with authority. “I don’t know who they are.” He braced for another strike, but it never came. Instead two hands gripped his head by the ears. Slowly a image came into view leaning in close, their noses almost touching. The face was sickly pale, thin and the eyes were blood shot. A tiny ball of white light glowed where the pupil should be; it was so bright it hid the color of the iris. Baxter slid along the wall looking for a door or a way out. Anything to get him away from the freak in this room. And

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he remembered his gun. He pulled out the .38, cocked the hammer and took aim. “I’ve already killed one of you fuckers,” he hissed. “His eyes were black. You’re no different.” He took a step forward. The barrel touched the person’s head. “Ye weapon be not sharp enough for damage.” “It can do more damage than you could ever imagine.” Baxter took a deep breath, and squeezed the trigger. The hammer struck an empty chamber. He pulled the trigger three more times with the same result. He looked at the gun quizzically. He was sure he’d reloaded. The safety was off. He opened the cylinder and five bullets rested, waiting to be used. “I told ye it be blunt.” The man grabbed him by the hair and tossed him against the wall. He drove a strike into Baxter’s stomach, forcing all air from his lungs and dropped him to the floor. Two hands picked him up by the shoulders. He was once again face to face with the pale skinned man and in a place he couldn’t understand. He thought he was dead and this was Hell. “Darian must be dealt with,” the man said. “He be here?” Awareness dawned like the rising sun. “Darian is Darkness?” “Nay, Darian not be this Darkness ye speak of. His shadow be the Darkness. It allows him to do as he wishes.” “And how would you know?” The man slammed Baxter against the wall. “I be the head Elder.” Spittle flew from his lips with each word. He used his body as a lever and pinned Baxter to the wall. With his

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hands now free, he pried apart Baxter’s eyes lids, opened them wide. “We must stop Darian.” Blue jagged lines of lightning shot forth from the man’s eyes. They jumped the short distance to Baxter and burned into his eyes. The pain was incredible. Tiny hairs of electrical energy danced on daggers boring past his optical senses and then, suddenly, all pain ended, yet he could feel the power sweeping across his brain. Echock turned into a figure comprised of white light. Baxter tried to move but couldn’t. His body wouldn’t follow his commands. The light separated into two thin lines. They shot forth ... And Baxter was back in the parking lot. His head throbbed and blood flowed from his nose. The parking lot was awash in light. He turned to the ruined buildings. No light came from there and the purple cloud had expanded and seemed to be moving toward the city center. Where was the light coming from? The fires in the buildings weren’t strong enough for this amount of light close to him and besides, the flames’ light didn’t reach this far. There were black patches several feet from him. Everywhere he looked there was light. A shiny piece of glass caught his attention. Baxter went to it and picked it up. It was mirrored glass from the building with all the white-coated people going back and forth. He brought it to his face. Several small cuts had opened slices on his cheeks and under his eyes. His white eyes.

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Chapter 29 1 Friday 2000 The house was dark. The Triumph Boys parked their bikes at the end of the street. Something had happened here earlier, and whatever it was, it’d been bad. Mark walked slowly past yellow tape stretched across driveways and front doors. The tape had big letters printed on it reading: Police Line — Do Not Cross. “What the fuck went on here?” Donnie said to no one. His face was fixed on the marked homes. “Wish I’d seen it,” Geoff said. “A grand fucking time,” Jack said. Daniel and Eric said nothing. These guys usually didn’t talk very much. Mark couldn’t recall a dozen words spoken by them. Mark was nervous about getting his bike. They’d spent thirty minutes cruising the streets and another twenty or thirty near state highway one. Mark had smoked and watched his new friends—his new family members—study a map and discuss routes and shortcuts. He stood on the outside of the group by choice not sure exactly what Donnie’s plan entailed. Now they were on this street where houses were dark and driveways empty. There weren’t any hints of TVs playing or bathrooms engaged. It was like a ghost street in many Western movies he had wasted time watching while stoned. “What do you think happened?” he asked anyone who

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was listening. Daniel turned to him and smiled. It was the darkest thing Mark had ever seen. “No idea, man,” Donnie said. He pulled at the yellow tape as he passed. “Not like I give a shit, anyway.” He pointed forward. “The bike’s just up there.” Mark nodded. He didn’t know what to say. ‘Thanks’, was incorrect. ‘Good’, made him sound like a wanker. “What one?” he asked. “Five houses up.” “Wish we’d known the street was like this,” Jack said. “Could’ve ridden our bikes. Ain’t no one around to hear shit.” “Just because we can’t see anyone, don’t mean no one’s looking,” Donnie said. He looked at his watch. “Better get a move on.” They were finally getting there. Mark felt his heartbeat increase. They were going to nick a Triumph for him. But what would a Triumph be doing in this middle to high income neighborhood? Donnie stopped at the letterbox and crouched in front of it. He pointed to the garage. “It’s in there,” he whispered. “However, I do believe the keys are inside.” “Don’t need a key,” Jack said. “We need a key,” Donnie said. “We’re about to hit the road. What happens when Mark needs gas? The attendant will see twisted wires and a ruined ignition.” He turned to face Jack. “Unwanted attention.” Geoff stood up. From his shoulder bag, he pulled out a handgun. “I’ll get the fucking keys,” he said and started up the driveway as if he lived there.

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The other four followed his lead. They looked around as they made their way to the door. Only Mark didn’t enter. Instead, he went to the garage. It was pitch black inside. An involuntary shiver ran down his spine. Sweat coated his palms and his fingers twitched as tiny nervous electrical shocks of fear zapped through his body. Mark wasn’t a thief. He had thought he could do this but now he wasn’t so sure. Still, he felt for the light switch and found it just to his left. Fluorescent lights blinked on, amazingly bright. The inside looked like a thousand garages he’d seen on many streets. The back wall had a workbench with several grease covered tools lying haphazardly here and there. On the back wall was a board with nails and white outlines of several tools. But this garage had something many others didn’t. A Triumph—black body and gleaming chrome. He went to the bike and gently ran his hands across the fine lines and logo. A gunshot roared inside the house. The sound ripped him from his thoughts and set a pyramid of fear crackling inside his stomach. He suddenly needed to take a piss, his bowels tightened and squeezed and his groin was alive with tingles. Guns. His friends had guns, he didn’t. A second gunshot rumbled in his ears. Mark found his feet moving him to the side door. He peered through the opening but couldn’t see anything. The

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house door was shut and no lights burned inside. Checking the driveway, he saw no one and ventured across the small patch of lawn to the side door of the house. Again he listened. Nothing. Not a single sound. He knew he had to enter, but he didn’t want to. With a shaking hand, he reached out for the door handle. He gripped it firmly and turned it slowly. Someone burst forward, knocking him off the step and into the air. His feet hit the ground but, unbalanced, his feet slipped under him and the concrete rushed up to greet the side of his head. Stars exploded against his vision, yet somehow, he managed to stagger back to his feet. His vision was a little washy, but he recognized Donnie standing in the doorway. His face was a maze of cuts and a patch of blood stained his jacket. Held limply in his hands was a .38 Special. “They’re here,” Donnie muttered; his body swayed slightly and his skin color was shockingly pale. Oh my God, Mark thought. Donnie reached into his pocket and removed his key chain. “The owners?” Mark said. Donnie shook his head. “Soldiers of Darkness.” “What?” “You heard—” He was suddenly staggering forward as if pushed from behind. Donnie lost his footing and fell to the ground. His jacket opened wide showing the injuries. Mark knew a bullet hole when he saw one. “Where’s the others?” He looked at the open door behind him and saw

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only the darkness of an unlit house. “I gotta get you to a hospital.” “I couldn’t change,” Donnie whispered barely loud enough for Mark to hear. “Take my bike, get your girl and get out.” He held out the key chain with trembling fingers. Mark didn’t move. “I’ll get the others,” he said. Donnie grabbed Mark by the collar and pulled him down, eye to eye. “The soldiers got them. The soldiers are still there.” He took a deep breath. “You must go now. If you care about Petra, then go get her. Before they do.” “I forgot all about you,” a gruff voice said behind him. Mark spun to face Geoff. The big Maori stood in the doorway and next to him was someone Mark had never seen before. The man wore an army uniform. Donnie poked the small of his back and Mark’s hand went there. The bike key chain was placed in his hand. An agonized gasp exhaled behind him. Donnie was gone. “Damn, that fucker held on for a long time.” Geoff laughed. The soldier next to him did not. A third gunshot tore through the night. At the same instant the soldier’s forehead ripped open, spraying blood and meat into the air and onto Mark’s face. “Woo, fuck.” Geoff yelled. He pulled free his handgun and fired into the house. Mark was on his feet before he knew he was going to run. He sprinted to the driveway, wiping the thick gunk off his face, as a bullet slammed the asphalt at his feet and ricocheted into the night. He dodged left as a second bullet followed the first. Geoff was playing with him. He had to be. Mark knew he was

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in open sight; there’s no way to miss such an easy target. Knowing this, pissed him off. Mark was determined now to follow Donnie’s dying words. He would get Petra and then...he wasn’t sure. He would consider that if he ever made it to the bike. He could see it under the streetlight off in the distance. Mark slowed his pace and turned. The street behind him was empty. There was no way he was going to stop. He didn’t believe for a second that Geoff would give up. It wasn’t in his blood. No bullets, no worries; Geoff had his fists and they could do just as much damage. Mark faced the Triumph and picked up his speed. He hadn’t realized until now how slow a runner he was. Too much weed and wasted hours in front of the TV. He would change his lifestyle if he could make it to the bike without Geoff showing up. His chest screamed for more air, but Mark couldn’t satisfy the need. The key chain dangled between his fingers. The bike was close now; he readied the key to shove into the ignition. Taking no chances, Mark slowed his pace and walked off the pavement and into the middle of the road. He approached the bike in slow even movements, but his eyes weren’t on the machine, they were scanning every nook and cranny, every shadowed area, any place someone could be waiting for him...for him or anyone. What had Donnie said? Soldiers of Darkness? What the hell or who the hell were they? One had stood with Geoff, side by side and he wouldn’t be surprised if more of them were around. There had to be a few in the house to overpower The

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Triumph Boys. Geoff would not be any easy one to overcome. All seemed well and quiet on the street. There were no shadowy figures lurking anywhere and neither Geoff nor any of the other Triumph Boys walked out onto the street. Were they letting him go? Just like that? Mark couldn’t believe it. After what he had seen, they had to know he would inform the police. Then again maybe they knew him as well as he knew himself; he had no intention of telling the cops anything. Petra was waiting for him and by God, he hoped he could make it before any Soldiers of Darkness did. It was now or never. He inserted the key and twisted it to the right. The sound of the bike filled the night with the rumble of thunder. Quickly he jumped on and kicked the gear into first. Making a U-Turn, he spotted the rest of the Triumph Boys wandering onto the street. Each held a weapon at their side. He finished the turn and not once looked back. There was only one thing on his mind: Petra.

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Chapter 30 1 Friday 2010

Darkness wandered through the streets. Several cars passed him, filled with teenagers and loud music. A young couple walked toward him, they held hands and seemed engrossed with each other. Their eyes were black. The new world was going to be wonderful. He turned back in the direction of the mall. He could see the lights of the place but not the place itself. Coming from a side street, he heard a few horns honking and a couple of angry voices. At the corner, he checked the street on his left and saw two young men yelling at each other, one wore a cheap suit and the other black jeans and a tee shirt; his arms were covered in tattoos to the wrists. Next to them were two cars. One had a crumpled front end and steam rose into the night sky; Darkness figured this was Suit’s car. The car it had hit was an early model Ford with a few dents and scratches. No guessing whose car that was. Darkness checked the street opposite him and several shops close to them. All looked empty. “What’s going on here?” he asked, trying to sound interested when he had only one thing on his mind. “Who the fuck are you?” Ford asked.

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Darkness turned his eyes from black to their original color, the color of Christopher Ball. He stopped under the streetlight between the two guys. “Who the fuck are you?” Darkness asked in response. Ford’s face reddened and his hand went behind his back... The suit stepped back... Darkness stepped forward. Ford pulled a Butterfly knife from his back pocket and swung it open as elaborately as possible. Darkness grabbed his wrist, twisted it and pulled up. He smiled as the wrist broke and went limp in his grip. Ford screamed. Darkness pulled the arm backward, stepped to the side of it. An easy push snapped the forearm just below the elbow. He released the screaming man and checked on guy with the cheap suit. “I’m going to the mall,” Darkness said letting his black eyes return. “Come with me.” He grabbed Ford’s head and violently twisted it a hundred and eighty degrees. The limp body fell to the ground. “I hate people like this. One thing hasn’t changed in all these years...” He left the sentence unfinished and turned his attention back to Suit-guy. “Coming?” he asked. “Do I have a choice?” “No.” “I have a family,” he pleaded as Darkness approached him. “Please?” “A family is good.” He pinched the guy’s neck, immobilizing him. “Open your eyes,” he commanded. The guy did as ordered. Darkness pulled the eyelids wide, leaned

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forward and licked the perfectly smooth eyeballs. He stood back and watched the infection take hold of the right eye first, then the left. Like a waterfall, the black washed down, covering all white and obscuring all color. He released the guy. “What happened?” Suit asked. “You became new.” “These colors are wonderful.” He started to walk away. “My family and friends need to see this.” Darkness thought about stopping him; the idea was to hit the mall together, but he figured he could manage the mall on his own. His cell phone rang. At first he didn’t notice the ring tone and returned to Main Street. There was a lot on his mind recently; things were going at a nice pace but a slower starting would have been nicer. It would have kept the infection a secret and not have awoken the Elders so soon. Awoken? Yes, he had to accept it. The Elders were back. Somehow they had returned from Hades and he had to deal with it. This time the war would be different. The infection was widespread; he could feel the energy of it growing like the building of a power surge. One mass of energy waiting to be released. In the many bodies he had occupied, Darkness learned about the new world, the wars, hunger, fear and hatred, and he didn’t like it. His infection would cure all that. His infection would be the start of an evolutionary jump. Prime Ministers, Presidents, world leaders, all would turn to him and his son for advice. Behind the scenes, they would mold a new, better and

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safer world. That was his new plan. Inside there was no more need for revenge, he had already dealt it out. He had killed the Elders and spread his name, although it didn’t seem to reach into any history books that Christopher Ball had ever read. But come morning everyone would know him and history would change. His time frame was very short. In a few hours things were going to get wild; he could feel it. It reminded him of the evening before the final battle against the Elder’s army all those years ago. He could almost taste it, smell the battlefield, the adrenaline of the men as they readied themselves for the final hour. War was war no matter what way he looked at it. As he reached the entrance to the new Wellington mall, Darkness whispered, “If they interfere, they die.” And he knew they’d interfere; it’s what they did best. 2 The mall was huge and best of all, the parking lot looked near full. Darkness strode across the asphalt, between parked cars and past a motorbike stand. On the walkway, he allowed Christopher’s eye color to return. Someone pushed past him in a quick walk; she looked ready to run. It always amazed him that everyone was in a hurry; people rushed everywhere. Customers exited shops and nearly collided with him.

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Teenagers sat on the curb, oblivious to the traffic. A group of roughly dressed men sat on car bonnets, smoking. A delivery truck crept past on its way to the rear of the mall. The rear. The storeroom. Only a handful of workers would be there. It was the perfect place to start. He stopped at the main entrance and stared at the automatic doors. He couldn’t see a key lock on the sliding doors or the wall next to the doors. How did they lock up at night? There had to be a control panel somewhere; most likely in the manager’s office. He backtracked to a hunting goods store and noticed the same type of door, only it was single, not double. On his way to the rear of the building, he glanced at all the doors and was happy to see that all were the same. He smiled. His cell phone rang. The caller ID read: Nick. He answered on the third ring. “Boss, I’m outside your building, but a cleaner told me you left.” “I’m at the mall. May need your assistance. Meet me at the back near the truck docking bay.” “On my way.” “And the cleaner?” Darkness asked. “A beautiful black-eyed grandmother.” Darkness killed the connection as he passed the roughly dressed men. He stopped. These guys might be useful. “Got a spare smoke?” he asked the closest. “Fuck off, wanker.” Darkness took a step closer. The man slid off the bonnet and stood face to face, ready for a stand-off. His hands

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clenched into fists; the cigarette dangled from the corner of his mouth. Mr. Tough-Guy. His two friends quickly rushed to his side. Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dee. Darkness stared at all three. His eyes washed black. “What the—” Darkness’s arm shot forward and took the cigarette from Tough-Guy’s mouth. “You obviously didn’t hear me.” He flicked the cigarette to Tweedle Dumb on the left. Once distracted, he drove an upper left, smashing Tough-Guy’s chin. Before the guy dropped to the ground, Darkness grabbed Tweedle Dumb by the hair and drove his head into the bonnet of the car, leaving a splat of blood. He turned to Tweedle Dee. “Easy way or hard way?” he asked. “What do you want?” he asked, pulling out his wallet. “Not money. I need you and your friend’s assistance.” “To do what?” Darkness knelt down to Tough-Guy with the broken chin. He examined the break. “This one is useless.” He made a fist and drove it into his neck. Death instantly. The cracking of bones was satisfaction to his ears. Tweedle Dumb struggled onto his hands and knees, desperately fighting to get back on his feet while his hand cradled his chin. “Try that again, cunt.” “Tony, stop,” Tweedle Dee said. “Wise words,” Darkness said and moved like lightning. Tony was trying to pull himself up using the bonnet for support. Darkness grabbed him around the throat, pulled him eye to eye. “Hurts, doesn’t it, boy?” He pushed the guy’s head against the car and leaned forward so they were once again eye

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to eye. “I can make all your pain—” Something smacked him hard on the head dropping Darkness to the side. The baseball bat soared through the air a second time. Darkness opened his eyes as it arched toward his head. He rolled to the side and caught it in his left hand, inches from his face and yanked it toward him. Tweedle Dee lost his footing and stumbled forward. He wasted no time infecting the two. His head throbbed madly. The bat swinger leaned against the car with his friend Tony. Both saw wonderful colors; a slight smile parted their lips. Tony turned to his friend. In a slow voice, he said, “Do you see what I see, John?” “How the fuck would I know? Ain’t got your eyes.” Darkness stood and looked around. He was surprised no one had said anything or even noticed them. They were near the rear corner of the mall, which probably had something to do with it, but there were a ton of cars here as well. He scanned the parking lot waiting for Nick’s arrival. He should be here by now. What was holding him up? A horn honked behind him. Darkness turned to see Nick pulling up beside him. He rolled the window down and looked at the two new recruits. “Sorry, had to pick up some ammo.” “Park the car,” Darkness commanded. He watched Nick head to the nearest parking spot. This far from the main door, parking wasn’t that difficult. Far off, he could see a short line of cars waiting for a closer spot. The world was filled with lazy fucks. Tonight that was going to change.

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“Tony, John, come here.” They did as ordered. “I’m tired of looking at your dead friend. Put him in the trunk.” They nodded and went to work. Darkness watched their movements. They were slow. He doubted their reaction to the infection had affected their performance. That could be a problem. While waiting for Nick to park his car, an outline of a plan formed in the recesses of Darkness’s mind. Soft whispering at first, but slowly building into understandable words. Before his eyes, he saw his small team enter the docking bay; there was a confrontation. He saw Nick shoot several people near telephones. They attacked everyone else. Tony and John’s actions weren’t slow anymore, they were deadly fast. They spread the infection amongst flying fists and cries for help. Several were too injured to help but Darkness kept them alive. They exited the docking bay and entered the storeroom with the newly infected following every order uttered and, joined like an army, they resumed their attack. They were thirty strong in the docking bay, sixty strong in the storeroom and by the time the storeroom was cleared, a hundred soldiers waited. Then he remembered the automatic doors. He had to find the manager’s office and lock all the doors. No one in, no one out, everyone infected. Men, women and children. Darkness refocused on the here and now. The vision was still fresh in his head; he saw himself enter the manager’s office, and then it stopped. It was a good plan, very basic in every way and ultimately perfect. They would go store to store when all the doors were locked. Half the army inside the store, the other half outside to stop any problems that might occur and

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anyone that might slip past. He saw Nick help Tony and John lift the corpse and place it in the trunk. They slammed the lid shut and looked at him for directions. “Follow me,� he said and led them to the docking bay.

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Chapter 31 Friday 2030 Baxter looked around the destruction of what had become his life. He wasn’t thinking what might have been, when he stepped over Susan’s corpse. He had only one thought at present, and two objectives to fulfill. First he had to find a car and then find the other Elders. He had no idea where they were but when they got close to one another, they would sense each other. He couldn’t understand how he knew this, he just did. The knowledge was there. A brief image of the Elder, Echock turning into a beam of light and entering his eyes, flashed in his memory. Baxter had to find car keys. The van didn’t look in very good health, he doubted he could get anywhere in that. He stared at the rubble and remaining pillars and slabs of wall. In his mind, he was restructuring the main office; putting the walls, doors and ceilings back where they belonged. Baxter took a deep breath and, keeping the image in his head, he looked up at the rubble. The top had collapsed on the lower floors. He started the climb up and over the mess of shattered concrete and plaster, over the tangle of wires and destroyed office items. A gust of wind blew dust and papers into the air around his feet. Loose bricks and cement shifted under his

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weight; some rolled away from the mound to the ground below. Baxter tripped over a hidden pole sticking out of the mess of cement. It threw him off balance and he almost lost his footing when a flapping corner of a suit jacket caught his attention. Hope shot through him as he made his way to the fallen man. A few feet away, he saw blood sprayed across the bricks. Blood only sprayed like that when ... Jesus. Baxter watched his footing as best as he could in the dancing shadows thrown by flames of fire licking the air. His feet slipped in the blood and he dropped to his side. Sharp bricks punched his ribs and hip sending bolts of pain up his spine. Slowly, he got back to his feet. His hand squished in warm liquid. He flicked his hand a few times to rid the excess, then wiped the rest on his jacket, producing dark stains as a result. In what seemed like an extremely long time, Baxter finally reached the suit. He pulled away bricks and pieces of ceiling from the body. He didn’t blink when the body came into full view. The crushed head, split neck and fingers. He was lying on a desk, thrown across it when the building shook. A puddle of eye juice glistened in the firelight. Baxter went straight to the jacket pockets. He removed a P.D.A and a wallet. About to toss both to the side, he changed his mind and slipped the P.D.A into his inside breast pocket. From the wallet he removed the driving license; if this man had a family, he would tell them the bad news, personally. The rest of the wallet was tossed into the bloodstained rubble. The other

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pocket was empty. Shit. He pushed broken legs from the desk drawers; it was like moving a heavy rag doll. The top drawer opened to reveal his prize, a ring of keys and one looked like a car key, and best of all, it had a car alarm controller attached to it. Baxter got to his feet and from his height advantage he could see the parking lot, and the glowing city lights far off in the distance. It looked peaceful from here, but he knew Darkness was up to something and it was happening now. But a new feeling pushed through as he stared at the lights. A feeling of meeting up with long lost friends. The Elders. Were they in the city, already? He pressed the alarm. Below, in the parking lot he saw a white Toyota President flash hazard lights in the darkness. Impressed, Baxter made his way down the loose bricks. His footfalls echoed in the silence of the parking lot. He swept his eyes left and right, scanning the area. He couldn’t take the chance that someone may be waiting for him. After all, the building didn’t blow itself up. And most people who did this liked to stay around and watch. Experience had taught him that. No one charged from the bushes or from behind other cars. If they had stayed they must be a long way off. He was thankful for that. He’d done enough fighting today to last a lifetime. He didn’t need any extra battles. Baxter climbed in behind the wheel. The car was pure luxury, the seats large and soft. The wheel was at a comfortable

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location and had a position set lever. He turned the key in the ignition and pulled out the P.D.A. He pressed the power button; the screen lit up and the words: ‘Low Batt’ glowed on the screen. The words flashed a few times and the screen went dark. Flat batteries meant high usage, which meant the owner had a back up power supply. And like most people ... He reached across to the glove box and opened it. Inside were several MD disks and CD disks. Under them was a power cord for the P.D.A that plugged into the cigarette lighter. He attached it and again pressed the power on button. The P.D.A came to life. Using the stylus, he pressed the Explorer and smiled when the browser activated and opened at a preset homepage. Using the pen, he entered a new URL in the address bar. A password page opened and he entered his user name and password. The page refreshed and showed a world map. He clicked New Zealand, waited a few seconds and clicked city, then, Wellington. A grid map of the city streets came on the screen. He selected city center. ‘Satellite Repositioning’ appeared on the screen, followed by the words, ‘Please Wait’. Wondering if his eyes were still white, he tilted the mirror and look at his reflection. Nope. They were back to his natural color. His eyebrows narrowed as he stared hard at the image, wondering if the white eyes would return suddenly and without warning. Hello Baxter, a voice inside said. Startled, he pushed the mirror away and took a couple of deep breaths.

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He put the P.D.A on the passenger seat and looked at the driver’s license. He wanted to know who the man was: Ted Donaven. “Thank you, Ted,” he said to the photo and tossed it next to the P.D.A. The screen displayed the same message. God, it was moving slowly. Or was it just his rush making it seem slow? He’d never used a P.D.A to access the satellite before. The driver’s door opened and two black-eyed men grabbed him and pulled him out. Surprise being the upper hand, they shoved him against the car and drove two jarring blows to his stomach, knocking the wind from him. Baxter dropped to the ground, gulping in deep breaths. A kick struck his ribs, not hard. It was a message to look at his attackers. He did. One was bulky with a large stomach, double chin, no hair, his face was covered in stubble and he held a large wrench in his meaty hands. The other was almost the opposite except he carried no weapon in clear view and had shoulder length hair. A bag was slung over one shoulder. “Who are you?” the bulky one asked. “Agent Baxter. Who the fuck are you?” “Saw you get hit by the explosion. You’re a lucky man. What were you looking for in that crap?” he pointed over his shoulder at the destroyed buildings. “You’re handiwork?” Baxter asked. The slim guy said, “Stop avoiding the question.” He knelt down at stared at Baxter’s eyes. “The world’s changing,” he said.

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“It is,” Baxter replied. White light spewed from his eyes. Two beams shot straight into the thin guy’s black ovals. He screamed as smoke poured forth and wafted into the night sky. Baxter heard the bulky guy move forward and brought his arm up to block the coming blow of the wrench. Their arms clashed. The wrench fell from Bulky guy’s grip. The white rays of light found the other man’s eyes and he dropped to the ground screaming and clutching at his eyes. The thin guy was silent and motionless on the ground. His fingers twitched as the bulky guy fell to the side. His head hit the other’s leg. Baxter’s attention went to the first attacker. Black dust covered his cheeks. His chest rose and fell rapidly. Suddenly, he rolled onto his side and vomited black slime. The smell of a blocked sewer rose around them as the slime turned to water. He heaved a few times and swallowed large gulps of air before looking up at Baxter with green eyes. From behind his field of vision, he heard the bulky guy vomiting. The thin guy rubbed his eyes. “What have you done?” he demanded. “Cleaned you.” “No!” he yelled, his hands clawing at his eyes. Baxter reached over and stayed his hands. “I can give it back,” he said. “Only this time, you’ll be on the right team.” “What’s happened?” the bulky guy said behind them. “Where are the colors?” To the thin guy, Baxter asked, “How were you...changed?” He couldn’t think of another word for it.

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Changed seemed as good as any. “He...” the guy thought about it, “I mean, Nick, he...” The guy stared Baxter in the eyes. “I don’t remember.” “I do,” the bulky guy said. “Nick fucking licked our eyes.” “I see,” Baxter answered. Through Baxter’s lips, Echock spoke: “There be war a raging. It be slowed for a very long time, but it be back for the final round. I canny promise ye the same sight. I can promise ye, we will win this round. Be ye with me?” “Fuck yeah,” the bulky guy said. The thin guy stood up. “Not me.” He took a step back. “Ron, are you sure you wanna do this?” He looked at his friend. “Nick didn’t give us the option.” “Look what we did, Tim,” Ron said nodding toward the destruction they’d created. “How many people were in there?” “We’ve done worse, you know that.” “Yeah, but for all the right reasons.” He turned to Baxter. “Do it,” he said. Baxter nodded. He didn’t fancy licking this man’s eyes, but there was no other way. He opened the lids as wide as they would go and drew his tongue across the glossy surface of both eyes. Ron took a few steps back from him. He closed his eyes and shook his head. “I heard drums,” he said, a hint of worry in his voice. “I did as well,” Baxter said. Ron opened his eyes; white light beamed forth. “Oh wow,” he muttered. “Tim, you gotta see this.” “Fuck the both of you.” He turned and walked away.

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“Be careful,” Ron said. “There’s a lot of them out there.” Tim replied by flipping him the bird. “Yeah, I care about you as well, man.” He turned to Baxter. “What’s the plan?” “The plan is still forming,” he said. “Get in the car.” Baxter sat in the driver’s seat and picked up the P.D.A. He saw a photo of the main street. Few people were out for a Friday night. Using the stylus, he clicked a button marked, ‘Real Time Feed’. And waited for the update. He saw a group of young guys, and a woman he vaguely recognized from around town. He knew her name but couldn’t recall it at the moment. Pressing the direction arrows, he made the satellite change view and he saw the city square. A group of black-eyed people walked there. Then he saw one person walking through them without a care in the world—a large Maori man, and Baxter felt a tingle of memory resurfacing. “Taelob,” he said. “It’s good to see you again.” Baxter put the car in gear and reversed out of the parking lot. He adjusted the rear view mirror and saw Tim watching them pull out. Not everyone wants to fight, Echock said. Don’t ask them anymore. Do as Darian does, just change them. Baxter nodded. He agreed.

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Chapter 32 Friday 2100 This street wasn’t well lit, but most residential places in Wellington weren’t. Simon kept his hands in his pocket and his pace slow. He was in no rush to reach anywhere. The sound of high heels, echoing through the silent night, on the opposite side of the street, caught his attention. Her clothes reminded him of tramps in cheap Hollywood movies. Mismatched clothes consisted of a shoulder exposing tank-top and mini skirt, fishnet stockings and fire engine red high heels. 80’s retro. She noticed him also and smiled before quickly looking down at her feet, acting coy. He knew her by reputation only. She looked up, casting him a sideways glance. She suddenly stopped walking and waved to him. Rumor or no rumor, Simon wasn’t interested. He didn’t respond to her wave and continued on his walk. The sound of her high heels followed him like ghosts. Click ... clack ... click ... clack. Ahead were a bunch of teenagers grouped around the doorway of a closed music shop. Each had a cigarette in his mouth, trying hard to look tough and cool and damn near succeeding. They stopped talking as he passed and watched him. Some things hadn’t changed since he was fifteen. He

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remembered doing exactly what they were doing all those years ago with Mark at his side. Suddenly, they started calling out to Debbie. Now he remembered her name. An easy one to forget, he supposed. Cat-calls flying in the night air. Whistles and hoots bounced off shop fronts. The click-clack of her high heels increased in speed. Simon turned to watch the coming action. Debbie crossed the road; she was smiling and winked at him as she greeted the boys. Simon headed for the bar. ‘The Crossed Arms’ was two blocks from the Square, which was just ahead. He crossed the street at the next corner and entered the Square. It was empty and dark. The overhead lights were almost useless late at night; the glare threw a circle of light roughly a foot or two, and the next light didn’t reach the next circle, so the place was covered in patches of darkness. He could make out the shape and placement of benches and other things thanks to shop lights and late night workers in the office buildings nearby. It felt weird tonight, walking through the Square. He had done it a thousand times before but this was the first time he felt tense as if he were being watched. Looking over his shoulder and closer at the darkened areas, he knew he was alone, isolated on the zigzag patterned tiles and scattered rubbish bins. But he couldn’t shake the feeling and a shiver ran the length of his spine. Without realizing it, his pace increased until he was out the other side. Instantly the feeling departed, dissipating at speed, like light fading from the sun as a cloud blocked its path. He looked back at the Square. Nothing seemed out of

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place or weird any longer; the benches, rubbish bins and light fixtures all looked normal, like they should. He turned the corner and saw the neon sign flashing ‘The Crossed Arms’ and below that on the same sign, ‘Open till 5’. Music wafted through the open door. Rock from the early nineties floated through the night air. This place always had the best music. No ‘dance’ crap at ‘The Crossed Arms’. A couple of girls walked past him. One cast a look over her shoulder and gave a fleeting smile. Simon ignored it, pretending he hadn’t seen. That was the second smile tonight he had passed up. Normally he returned the gestures and maybe approached them and had a few words, perhaps a laugh or two along the stumbling path to a night of pleasure. The music and the flashing neon called to him. Down the street were other bars and nightclubs and hangout joints. But it was the ‘Crossed Arms’ where he planned to meet Mark. Brushing off his pants, he entered the bar. Apart from the music, the place was quiet. He pushed open the padded inner door and walked straight to the bar. Strobe lights flashed off dark purple walls, cushioned seats and cigarette-scarred tables. Two steel poles were at each side of the dance floor, reaching to the ceiling. Simon remembered a few fights, with heads being bashed against those things. Lined in front of the bar were a number of barstools, which would be removed by midnight. Three other people were in here; two sitting in the darkest area necking and another guy, all by himself, nursing a tall beer that looked untouched. He wore a suit with a long coat that hung loose on one side and looked heavy on the other. Taking the center stool, he watched Katrina the bartender,

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reaching under the counter doing something. He didn’t think she had noticed him enter. Simon put his packet of smokes on the bar next to a used coaster. He pulled a cigarette from the packet but, not feeling like a cigarette yet, he twirled the thin cylinder of poison between his fingers. With his free hand, he tapped on the bar counter. The lady looked up and smiled. She brushed off her hands on her half-sized apron. “What can I get you?” she asked. “Double rum and coke.” He’d move to beer later. Hard liquor had little effect on him, whereas beer, for some unknown reason, got him pissed on the third or fourth glass. “Coming right up,” she answered pulling a chilled glass from the refrigerator. He watched the auburn-haired lady fetch his drink. She had a nice figure, not slender but firm. She wore a short sleeved shirt and black jeans, with a waist apron—standard bartending uniform. Her back was facing him as she poured the drink. The shirt rose when she stretched to fill the rum into the coke from a dispenser attached to a high shelf. On the small of her back was a tattoo of a small dragon of many colors. With the double shot in the glass, she turned back to him. Her shoulder length hair followed the head turn like one of those shampoo commercials as it washed past her shoulders. Her eyes were green and they sparkled when she smiled. She put the drink on the coaster. “Five fifty,” she said. Simon handed her a twenty and waited for his change. It arrived the same moment a group of five entered the bar. They lined up side by side at the counter and all ordered beer. Three were girls. One hung off her boyfriend’s arm while the other

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had both arms around the two remaining girls. Where was the bouncer? Every time he came here, with Mark or not, the same bouncer stood near the inner door. Huge arms crossed over a huge chest. The man was bulk muscle. And nowhere in sight. Music boomed from the speakers near the DJ set-up. The DJ hadn’t started yet and the computer just ran through a preprogrammed play-list. All the music was good, more than once, Simon caught himself tapping his fingers on the bar counter as he slowly finished the rum and coke. The group on the dance floor ground against one another. The couple in the dark continued to neck and the man by himself had yet to touch his beer. He stared at the dancers, watching their moves closely. The tails of his long coat touched the floor. Suddenly, the man turned his head and caught Simon glaring at him. The man’s eyes were dark in the strobe lights. The multicolored lights sparkled through the gray streaks in his hair. And the look was cold. Uncomfortable, Simon turned on his stool to face the bar. Katrina had finished whatever she was doing under the bar and was now leaning heavily on the opposite counter, watching the dance floor. It looked like she wished to be there, strutting her stuff instead of behind the bar waiting for the place to get busy. Simon waved his empty glass to get her attention. She pushed herself off the counter and smiled at him. “Another?” she asked, taking the glass and putting it in a dishwasher rack. “Yep.” She didn’t reply, just set to work mixing another rum and coke. Finished, she put it on the counter. He handed her the

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cash. She took it without a word and went back to leaning against the counter. The front door pushed open and another group entered. Mostly girls, dressed for a night of fun. None of the guys spoke to the girls as they each waited to be served, causing Simon to wonder if they were together. Where the hell was Mark? The guy liked the bar when it was mostly empty. And he did say he was headed here with his loser friends. Feeling eyes bore into him, he turned and saw ‘Mr. Suit’, as he now referred to the man with the untouched beer, watching him. Simon glared back and the man gave a slight nod in his direction and turned back to stare at his beer. What the fuck? He finished his drink in three long swallows and decided to wait for Mark outside. Standing up, he had the sudden urge to take a leak and headed to the toilet. It was at the end of the bar, against the back wall, close to the lovers necking. At this end of the bar a large mirror reflected the strobe lights, illuminating the dance floor. It also reflected Mr. Suit watching him. Simon was feeling uneasy with this attention. Simon watched the man’s reflection closely as he pushed open the bathroom door. The man didn’t move, thank God. After his piss, he was getting the fuck out of here. Inside was an odor he wasn’t used to. It was different to the tangy scent of yellow blocks lining the urinal. It reminded him of a slaughter house he had visited during a school trip many years ago. He went to the far urinal and unzipped. A moment later and half finished, a chill ran the length of his spine and again

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he felt eyes watching him. A quick glance toward the door showed it remained closed. Yet, the feeling remained. Someone was behind him. Watching. Keeping things even, as if he noticed nothing, Simon finished his business and, repacking his goods, turned to the wash basins. His peripheral vision showed a stall door open, directly behind the urinal he used. It had been closed before, he was sure of it. A soft groan emitted from it, startling Simon. Gingerly, he took a step forward. The groan repeated. He tensed up a few steps from the stall door. He would have to step around it to see inside. He took a few deep silent breaths to calm his racing heart and stepped around the door and froze at the sight. The muscle bound bouncer was there, slumped on the toilet seat, his legs splayed wide. His suit shirt was ripped open and a long cut started just below the neck and finished below his belly button. The skin was pulled apart, exposing the chest bone. Blood ran free over and under intestines lying across his lap and dribbled on the floor. The bouncer’s eyes were open above a smashed nose and split lips. He blinked a few times. “Jesus fucking Christ.” The bouncer motioned him closer but Simon wasn’t moving. He shook his head: No. Seeming to understand, the bouncer nodded slowly. In a raspy voice, he whispered, “Long ... coat ... Shotgun ... Careful.” Scrambling back, he rushed for the bar, swinging open the toilet door in a mad rush. It slammed against the stopper. Katrina glanced at him; a worried expression crossed her face.

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Mr. Suit stood up. He opened his coat and from inside removed a sawn-off shotgun. He aimed it at the bartender. Simon didn’t think. He dove across the counter, clearing it easily. His arm wrapped around Katrina’s waist and together they hit the floor. A moment later bottles exploded, followed by the sound of a shot-gun blast, covering the two in shattered glass and alcohol. Someone screamed as another blast tore through the bar. Katrina reached the cord of the phone and yanked on it. The phone slid across the counter and dropped to the floor. She grabbed it, cradled the receiver and lifted it. Next to her, Simon could hear the beep-beep-beep of an unconnected line. The music stopped. A few whimpers mingled with the sudden silence. A table hit the floor and one whimper turned into a scream, followed by the unmistakable sound of the shotgun’s pump action being used. A second later a blast ended the scream. Katrina crawled along the floor on her stomach. Her hands pushed away broken bottles and jagged glass in her path. She skittered close to the counter and reached through the shelf. Her hand searched blindly and returned with her handbag. She twisted the latch and pulled out her cell phone, punched in the emergency number and waited with the phone against her ear. Simon heard the operator’s voice: “What service do you require?” In a whisper barely audible, Katrina said, “There’s a man with a gun.” “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. If possible, please speak louder.” Katrina didn’t answer.

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“Ma’am, I’m connecting you to the police now.” Katrina nodded as if the operator could see her and placed the cell phone on the shelf. She pushed aside a box, revealing a hand gun. She handed it to Simon, butt first. He took it, but had no idea what to do with it. Katrina stared at him. The look in her eyes urged him on. She owned a gun but was too scared at the moment to use it. Simon wasn’t sure if he had the guts either, still, he pulled back the revolver’s hammer. It clicked loud in the silence. “I heard that,” Mr. Suit said. It sounded like he was at the back of the bar, near the D.J. sound system. Simon steeled his jumping nerves, trying to slow his heartbeat. His bladder screamed for release and chin jittered uncontrollably. Quickly, he moved into a squat, trying not to think about his following action. Taking a deep breath, he stood. The barrel of the shotgun pushed against his nose, forcing him a step back. “There you are,” Mr. Suit said. “It’s my job to save you from what’s coming.” He pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. With a quizzical expression, he tried again. Simon saw his chance. He raised the handgun, the barrel inches away from the Mr. Suit’s forehead. He swallowed hard, and squeezed the trigger. The gun bucked hard, jerking his hands an inch higher but the shot remained on target, burrowing into the center of Mr. Suit’s forehead. A flash of blood and bone showered out the back of his head and the shotgun dropped harmlessly onto the

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counter as his eyes opened wide and he stepped backwards. Suddenly, Katrina was standing next to him. She grabbed the shotgun, gave it a quick once over and used the pump action, chambering a round. “Forgot to jack it,” she said. The man took several steps back and stood next to the first table. Behind him, Simon saw bloodied bodies slumped against table tops and slouched in seats. A couple was on the floor. He saw the man’s hand twitch before it stilled forever. How the fuck was he still standing? Why the fuck was he still standing? Simon aimed again, but Katrina beat him to the shot. The shotgun blast knocked her backwards against the empty shelf where lacquer had once stood. Pellets littered Mr. Suit’s body, shredding his shirt. His coat slipped off his shoulders and dropped to the floor forming a pile around his feet. The man swayed slightly and suddenly fell to his knees. Katrina pumped in another round. A moment later, Mr. Suit’s eyes lost focus. Simon dropped the handgun; it clattered loudly on the floor at his feet, and for a brief fleeting second, he thought the thing would go off. He held his breath waiting for the explosion to take off his toes — but the gun remained placid and silent. A tear slid down Katrina’s cheek, leaving a wet smear in its wake. Nerves shook her body and ragged her breathing and her knuckles were white as snow from the tight grip on the shotgun. Reaching to her, he gently placed a hand lightly on her shoulder. She jumped at the touch. His other arm reached across and grabbed the other shoulder. He turned her until they were face to face. The shotgun was aimed at his head, the fat

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barrel a mere inch away. Keeping his eyes locked on hers, he eased the weapon out of her hands. “What if–” “No,” Simon said cutting her question in half. Her head turned in the direction of the dance floor. Mr. Suit was still on his knees, his chest was still and his face was slack. Apart from being on his knees, he looked completely void of muscle. A commotion on the other side of the inner door, grabbed his attention. Quickly, he placed the shotgun on the floor, leaning it against the shelf, in easy reach. He pulled Katrina to his side and watched the door. The bar’s phone rang, surprising the both of them. She reached for it from habit, but Simon stopped her. “Is there a back door?” She pointed to a door at the far end of the counter, where the shotgun sat. He had never noticed the door until now. It blended with the color of the wall and was set perfectly flush. Knowing it was there, he could see it clearly now, even the small red handle. Keeping his eyes fixed on the cops who had had their backs to them and attention fixed on Mr. Suit, Simon edged toward the escape route. Katrina was in front of him, and he gently pushed her forward with his hands on her waist. A step away, he stopped her and reached past. His hand fell on the cold handle as he heard screeching tires outside. The whirl of a police siren slowed into a drowning deep grumble and stopped.

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Simon swung the door open and hurriedly pushed Katrina through the office door. He slammed the door shut and leaned against the wall. A second later a bullet punched through the thin wood and entered the desk at the opposite end of the room. Katrina was standing at the back door, holding it open. Her face was blank of expression as she stood there waiting for him. He thumbed the flimsily lock on the door handle and rushed to her side. She looked at him with questions in her eyes, but he couldn’t answer her.

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Chapter 33 1 Friday 2110 The docking bay was easy. Darkness was surprised. Nick showed great strength and unstoppable force. His aim was true with each shot he let loose. Not a single bullet was wasted, not a single phone operator was left alive. It was a pity to lose eight able bodies, but Nick had to get them off the line instantly, and quickly. The two new recruits also proved a worthwhile addition. All the men at his side were soldiers; they took orders without question and hesitation was not part of their vocabulary when they had a job to complete. Darkness was proud. He had chosen well. There were roughly thirty people at work in the docking bay when they arrived. No one noticed them enter. And no one expected trouble. Turning them had been easy; as if they wanted something new in their boring lives. Only one had not turned, even though he gave no resistance. Darkness snapped his neck, putting him out of his misery. Standing in an orderly line were his new soldiers. He marched past them and looked each one up and down. None showed fear, nor worry. He had already told them of what lay ahead; he informed them that outside this mall, others were also hard at work.

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At the end of the line, he stopped short noticing a single tear drop from one girl’s eye. Her plastic name tag read: New Employee, Janice. Darkness caught the tear as it rolled onto her chin and looked deep into her black eyes. “What is the tear for?” She shrugged, her blonde hair bounced on her shoulders. Her eyes stole a glance at the dead employee and quickly shot back to her feet. Darkness placed his hand under her chin and raised her head to look her in the eye. “What was he to you?” The girl remained staring at the floor. “Your friend?” She nodded. “Boyfriend?” Again, she nodded. “You are sad for his death?” Another nod. “Did you love him?” A fresh tear dropped from her eye. Darkness took her in his arms and squeezed. She sobbed loudly. “Let it out,” he said in a soft voice. “There, there.” He gently ran his hand through her soft hair, caressed the back of her neck and patted her back. She held him tight, her arms around his waist and her head on his chest, crying openly. Darkness turned slightly, saw the docking clock and noticed the time. He pulled her free of him. Gently holding her head, he asked, “Are you all right, now?” She nodded and wiped tears from his face. Janice took a

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deep breath and steadied herself. “Better,” she muttered. “Good.” Darkness snapped her neck. Holding her body upright by the head, he said, “I am not your mother. I do not care about your loved ones or your loss.” He tossed Janice to the side like a disused rag doll. From the corner of his eye, he saw Nick smile. Darkness was making a point. He saw a flicker of fear cross the faces of the other people and knew the point was received loud and clear. “We have a mission to complete. If you believe you cannot perform this task, step forward and join her.” He pointed to the slumped body of Janice and her boyfriend. No one stepped forward. Darkness turned to face Nick, but spoke to everyone. “You will obey this man’s commands to the letter. Do you understand?” Instantly, everyone yelled, “Yes sir!” A door at the other side of the docking bay opened. Two large swinging doors with large rubber edging killed all sound between the two rooms. An old style forklift entered the docking bay. The driver looked at everyone standing in a line for a second, then turned the forklift to a pallet loaded with foodstuffs. Darkness nodded to Nick, who removed his handgun and casually inserted several fresh rounds. He took aim and fired before the guy driving had reached the swinging doors. The forklift came to a stop against the wall. Nick ran to it. He grabbed the slumped body and tossed it to the floor and climbed in. He put the machine in gear and reversed toward Darkness, keeping the pallet on the forks.

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Nick pointed to several employees and ordered them to follow him inside. Darkness nodded at Nick. Everything was taken care of here. He went through the doors that opened onto a narrow passage and a door at the end. The corridor held a few offices but they were empty. At the end he turned the knob of the door and entered a bustling shopping mall. Even this late at night, it was busy. 2 Taelob wandered past a group of people dressed in hospital gowns. He watched them closely but knew they would ignore him. They would take furtive glances but they were afraid to get close. It wasn’t only these people, most with the black eyes steered clear of him too. How long had he been back in this world? A couple of hours? He already hated it. It was too bright and noisy; how did people sleep at night? Taelob kept his feet moving. He’d walked through most of the city center and had yet to find his comrades Hern and Echock. “Hey buddy, spare a buck?” Taelob looked at the blue-eyed homeless man holding his hand out, expecting money. “No.” He tried to step past the man but was cut off. “It’s only a dollar, man. Not like I’m asking for your right nut.” “How would you like me to feed you your right nut?

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Get out of my way, I have a job to do.” The homeless man let him pass. Yep, Taelob hated this world for sure. What had happened since their time? This was not progress; this world was madness. He sensed mankind had lost touch with nature and their true selves. They needed— A sensation of danger spiked the hairs on his neck and he spun around to see a bottle flying at his head. Without thinking, he swept his arm in the air and the bottle changed course. It crashed into a shop wall. Glass and whiskey showered the pavement. Taelob hadn’t touched the bottle. Bright white light screamed from Taelob’s eyes and slammed into the homeless man’s blue orbs. The paper bag he held dropped to the ground and his arms flew to his sides; the fingers splayed. The power of the light knocked his head back and bounced into the night sky, illuminating a purple cloud spreading across the horizon. The light suddenly vanished from the sky as the homeless man dropped to the ground. His body twitched as Taelob approached and looked down at his eyes. Small streams of light swirled in circles around the iris. A few minutes passed before the man blinked rapidly and the light spread across his entire eyeball. Slowly, he climbed unsteadily to his feet and stared at Taelob. “My name’s Ted. I am at your service.” “What service?” Ted did not reply and he also no longer looked under any alcoholic influence, as if the light had washed it away. Taelob turned and resumed walking and searching for his comrades.

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A moment later he heard Ted following him. 3 Darkness went with the guards after convincing the manager to see things his way, and watched them lock all the doors. The manager had done the auto-lock and the guards were doing the double lock, a simple key turn. With that task completed, the guards in groups of three took up position in front of the glass doors. Shop owners came out of their shops wondering what was going on. Shortly a small group of late night shoppers stood in front of the guards. Many of them fired questions, others used cell phones and contacted god-knows-who. Some were panicky at the main entrance and Darkness smiled at them all. He was waiting, his hand on his cell phone in his trouser pocket, for more to group around the entrances. It was easier to transfer en masse. Taking out the phone, Darkness dialed Nick’s cell. He pushed through the crowd, waiting for his call to be answered. On the fifth ring, it was. “We’re ready,” Darkness said and killed the connection. He passed more people on their way to the entrance, he passed others sitting on the floor, waiting. Small children ran to and fro with fretful mothers trying to calm them down. Few looked his way. To them he was just another person locked inside a super mall. Darkness took the flight of steps to the manager’s office.

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From below, soft screams and shouting wafted up through the floor, mixed with the sound of people thumping on the thick glass doors. It pleased Darkness to hear such sounds. It was music to his ears. It was just as Darkness had envisioned it. It was perfect. There was nothing the Elders could do to stop him now.

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Chapter 34 1 Friday 2130 Simon and Katrina took shelter in a dark alley. There were only two working streetlights; one at the start of the alley and one at the other end. The sky was dark, yet there was enough light to be able to safely make their way down. Part way to the end, they spotted a dumpster. Both out of breath, they hid behind it and tried to make some sense from what they had seen in the bar and on the streets. It was like a zombie movie out there, apart from everyone’s fast movement. They heard screams, horns blared, and cars rammed one another. “What’s going on?” Katrina asked. “I have no idea,” Simon answered honestly. “But we can’t stay here.” “I feel like I’m in the fucking twilight zone. What happened to reality? People with black eyes...it’s fucking unreal.” He nodded in answer and got to his feet. At the end of the alley were several people. He ducked down again and brought a finger to his lips. “There’s a group of people down that way,” Simon said in a hushed whisper. He looked to the other end of the alley. All appeared clear on that side. Yet, there was no way they could make it without being seen.

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It had been foolish to leave the gun behind. “I see you,” someone said in a loud sing-song voice, making sure all could hear him. Simon sighed, his chin dropped to his chest. Now, they were fucked. The game was over. Best to face the music, while he had strength to put up a fight. And keep Katrina hidden. “Come out, come out, wherever you are.” Simon moved to stand up but Katrina grabbed his arm. Her terrified eyes screamed at him to remain still. “I see you hiding under the desk, bitch,” the same singsong voice said, with a touch of harshness. “Desk?” Simon whispered. Katrina shrugged. On all fours, he crawled around the side of the dumpster and peered down the alley. He counted eleven people, though there might be twelve or thirteen. It was hard to tell, they were tightly grouped around the one talking—singing. It was a true tribal pack of the old days. They were dressed similarly in jeans and business shirts opened to the second or third button. They looked like lawyers with their hair down, too much to drink and playing the part of ‘Weekend Warrior’. None looked in this direction. They stood facing the side window of an Office Supplies store on the corner. A few carried bats, one had a tire iron, another a golf club, cricket bat and a host of other sporting goods, including a loaded crossbow, tennis rackets and some other items he couldn’t make out at this distance. The one doing the talking gently tapped his bat against the ground in a threatening manner. “Come out,” he called. “We aren’t going to hurt you.”

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His sing-song voice was gone now. And when he spoke his voice was smooth and even, and perhaps a little calming. Katrina nudged Simon’s side. “Let’s make a run for it before they spot us.” Simon nodded but didn’t move. He watched the singsong man, obviously the leader of this motley crew, pull back his bat and swing full force at the window. It shattered, activating a high pitched alarm that screamed through the night. Suddenly through the broken storefront window, two men in suits jumped out with swinging fists. They didn’t stand a chance as several others were on them instantly with bats and clubs. Simon watched them pound the two men into bleeding pulp on the sidewalk. Weapons rose into the night, flicking blood and flesh behind them, as they swung down to deliver more damage. The leader ignored them and walked into the store. Simon waited, unable to move or react. He couldn’t take the chance offered and bolt to the other end of the alley. He felt like a gawker at an accident. The leader was inside for only a few minutes. His reemergence stopped the swinging clubs and bats. He dragged a young woman from the shattered window. Simon figured her to be at the most, twenty-five years old. She was slender with long brown hair, wearing a uniform jacket that hugged her tightly and a matching mini-skirt that did the same. The leader tossed her into the group. They held her arms behind her back and a couple held her head firmly; all the while she continued to struggle, twisting against the hold on her and trying her damnedest to jerk free.

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With their fingers, they pried her eyelids wide. The leader smiled, approaching her slowly. “I have a gift for you,” he said in a smooth voice. “You’re going to thank me later for this.” He stood directly in front of her, his body almost touching hers and leaned forward. The woman drove her knee up into the leader’s groin. He doubled over from the pain, his hands protecting him against further attack. She brought up her other knee and struck his cheek. The leader hit the ground. The men holding the woman threw her to the cold pavement. The bats and clubs rose. “Wait,” he said. “Let’s not waste such beauty.” Simon turned away as the group closed in on her. He wanted to help, do or say something, but knew he couldn’t. If he spoke up, he would be adding Katrina to their fun and games. “Time to split,” he said, grimacing at the pain on Katrina’s face. He knew what she was thinking and feeling for the woman, but he hoped she also knew there was nothing they could do. Katrina turned from the sight and the screams. She nodded. Taking her hand, Simon stood. He glanced behind him. The group were busy with the young woman; they had her skirt off, and it lay at a heap next to her kicking ankles. He was glad she still kept fighting. His attention was still focused on the attack behind that he hadn’t noticed Katrina stop. She yanked her hand back to get his attention. In front of them, at the opposite end of the alley were

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several men and a few ladies. He had no time to react. A few of the men charged in his direction. Simon turned his head sideways, bracing himself for the coming impact. Which never came. They raced past him as if he didn’t exist and ran hard and fast into the group. They collided without slowing and knocked several men over, a few fell on top of the girl. She screamed and wriggled under them. No one on their end of the alley showed any interest in him or Katrina. He took a tentative step forward, then another and another. No one made a move to stop them. Light filled the alley, bright as day. Simon spun around as a large dark man raised his arms. Bright white light spilled from his eyes. Seconds later it spilled from the others beside him. The light washed down the alley, covering the walls and ground. It swept down as if it was a living thing running through the air. It slammed into the men, knocking them off their feet, and driving them head-first into the unforgiving concrete. They lay motionless in a tangle of arms and legs. The light had bypassed those who went to help. These men grouped around the lady in a protective circle. The black man motioned them to pick her up and they helped her walk to the black man with the white eyes. Her face lacked any form of emotion as she stood partially naked in front of them. Simon noticed one of her eyes was black. Katrina tugged his arm, urging him to follow. He glanced in her direction and nodded. Keeping his eyes on her,

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he walked away from the new group and rounded the corner of the alley. “There’s a war raging,” he heard someone say. He turned around and saw the big black guy staring at him. “I am Taelob.” “Not interested,” Katrina said. “You should be. Anyone not infected with Darkness will become his prey. The two of you are fair game.” “Story of my life,” Katrina replied. She released Simon’s hand, turned and walked along the street. Simon knew she wasn’t going to stop and look back. She wasn’t that kind of person. She also needed him, maybe. He wanted to follow her but he felt an attraction to the black guy. A kind of power he couldn’t describe, and it held him in place. Their eyes locked and in the whiteness, Simon saw swords flashing, steel slammed against steel; he saw heads roll from bodies and blood leap from wounds, and he saw the face of a man he’d once worked for. “Mr. Ball?” “Once upon a time,” Tealob said. Katrina stepped between them, breaking the eye contact. Simon blinked several times. “You come with me,” she demanded. She turned him away from the man and pushed him a few steps along the street. He was happy she’d returned. 2

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Taelob watched them walk away. He wished them a safe journey, knowing sooner or later that they may clash if Darkness got his paws on them. And he probably would. Behind him a car skidded to a stop. He turned and felt the presence of Echock in the man behind the wheel. A smile brightened his face as he went to greet an old friend and leader. Now the only one missing was Hern.

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Chapter 35 1 Friday 2225 The mall was silent. Hundreds of shoppers with pitch black eyes stared at the guards blocking the exits. Some moved back and forth, while others remained sitting as if awaiting orders. There was no more fighting and no arguments, only the tension of people wanting out. Darkness was in the manager’s office. He watched the events on the monitors mounted to a wall in a side room next to the manager’s desk. Nina. Ah, sweet Nina. He had forgotten about her in the past couple of hours. He wondered how she was holding up. Had she left the closet yet, or was she obeying his commands? Foremost on his mind were the Elders. He was worried not knowing where they were or what they were doing. He was safe here for the time being. He was already missing the ability to look down on the streets, as he had in Christopher’s building. No one could see him as there were no windows to be seen from. He picked up the intercom mike and stared at the shoppers. He was about to tell the guards to open the doors and let everyone go. The so-called viral effect that Nick loved to talk about would explode. By morning, he would send

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hundreds of people across the country and have them all go to shopping malls. It was the perfect place to spread the love. There would be other places as busy as shopping centers and he was sure his people would find them. He would send them off in teams of fifty or so to every town in this country, then spread across the globe. Things would change; schooling being the main point of focus. There would be no more fairy tales, and books with talking animals. No. He would end that. This world had technology not even dreamed of in his time, and he would use it to his and his son’s advantage. The school teachings would turn to science and physics and the advancement of technology. The future would be wonderful. Anything was possible. Mating would also have to change, no more choosing ones partner. Every mate had to have the correct matching DNA structure for optimal birth. In the future brains could be enhanced before birth, babies born with the knowledge of doctors, scientists, and more. Anything and everything to enhance the future. It was going to be grand. He could taste it. Suddenly the office shook and people screamed. Darkness grabbed the monitor in front of him and stared at the screen, willing it to tell him what just happened. He watched people running, crying, fighting. Fighting others with white light in their eyes. Darkness stumbled backwards coming to a stop when he hit the wall in the small room. His eyes never left the screen. He stared numbly as the battle raged. Flashbacks of his previous battle screamed across his memory. Blood splattering

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the cold earth, just as it now splattered the cold floor. The screams were the same, some were war cries, but most were fear and all were loud. One of the monitors was turned away from him, facing an empty chair. He scrambled to the other monitor. It showed the outside of the mall. He saw the parking lot and the hordes of white lighters. There were hundreds. More than he had. And they were all surging forward into his domain. Anger at his foolishness boiled inside. In a fit of rage, he picked up the monitor and slammed it onto the floor at his feet. 2 Baxter stood on the road leading to the mall. He felt Echock raging inside him, wanting to fight, get in the mix of things, but Baxter knew better than to do that. The possibility Darkness could escape while he and Echock were busy was a chance he refused to take. Taelob had gone down amongst them taking the position as their leader. He barely heard what Taelob said but it encouraged the crowd. A crowd the three of them had formed. And it had taken less than an hour. Another encounter taught that those infected with the white light could pass it on, the same way as Darkness had spread his seed so quickly. They had gathered in the square as he and Taelob sat outside an empty coffee shop. Baxter had hooked up to the satellite link from the free Wi-Fi offered at most coffee shops

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and searched for the highest concentration of people. He thought that would be the next target for Darkness. The satellite searched for heat signatures. A moment later it locked onto two possible locations. The first option was the city center, it had the largest grouping. That was good to know, but they were all his people. The second was a shopping center a couple of blocks from the city square. He ordered Ron to check it out and the man returned twenty minutes later with the kind of news Baxter was expecting but hoping against. Taelob took the white-eyed soldiers to the shopping center, he led the attack, and he blew the windows in with a concentrated blast of white light. How exactly he did that, Baxter did not know and neither did Echock judging by the silence inside his head. That happened only moments ago. Hundreds of citizens were clambering inside the shopping center, climbing over fallen bodies as they did so. In the chaos of bodies, he lost sight of Taelob. Baxter held his position and scanned all corners of the building that he could see. He knew the layout made a rear exit impossible; it was blocked off by a thick hedge and an electric fence. If Darkness ran, he would see him.

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Chapter 36 Friday 2223 Getting to the house was easy. Mark noticed something going down in the city and whatever it was, it wasn’t good. He could still hear the gunshots and Donnie’s voice giving a final order to him. He pulled into the driveway, the Triumph light beaming into the kitchen. He had walked boldly up the steps and opened the kitchen door. Unprovoked, the dealers in the kitchen charged him, their eyes black as coal. The force of their collision, took him through the door and into the yard. The guy on top—Mark had never seen this person before—slugged punch after punch into his mouth. He tasted blood and cringed away from each blow. Thoughts of Petra filled his mind and he started fighting back. And he fought like he’d never fought before. He held back no punches, aimed each strike to finish behind the head and finally, struggling against the weight on top of him, he managed to bring his knee up and hit the bastard where it hurt most. He collapsed like a house of cards. Mark scrambled to his feet and saw the others watching from the safety of the house, and ignored them and their black eyes. They allowed him to enter without the need for more fighting, though Mark was ready for it. He was tense as he stepped past them, and remained

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tense all the way into the living room. Someone ran into him from the side, not hard but enough to knock him off balance. He stumbled left. A punch hit his face, also not hard but enough to sting and cause his cheek to throb. He spun around with his fist raised and anger boiled with fear into the black-eyed face of Donnie’s woman, Andorra. Her dark hair was wet and hung straight to her shoulders. Mark didn’t throw the punch. “What the fuck’s going on?” he said, trying to make sense out of this mess he’d gotten into. He took a step back and noticed something he had never seen before, a syringe in her arm. Blood ran from the side of the hole, which was black and swollen. Andorra hissed at him. “It’s beautiful,” she whispered. “And with this,” she held up her arm, “it’s Heaven.” Mark’s fist swung before he had time to consider it, the knuckles twisted her head to the side, taking her to the floor. Andorra didn’t move. He jumped over her body and charged up the stairs. Mark froze with his hand on the knob of Petra’s door. He took a deep breath and swung it open. He stepped into the empty room and looked around. No bags, no clothes, no Petra. Something hit the back of his head. Stars exploded in his vision. He lost any sense of balance and toppled to the floor. “Didn’t your mama teach you not to hit girls. You fucker.” Petra stared down at him. Mark scrambled to a sitting position and stared at his

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woman with black eyes. “I don’t understand what’s going on?” he said, his voice was soft and almost child-like. Petra stared at him with eyes as black as the night outside. She slapped a broken chair leg on the palm of her other hand. She was dressed in only panties and a bra. “I came to get you,” Mark said. “Why?” “I thought—” “Thought what?” she said slamming the chair leg harder in the palm of her hand. “What did you think? You came here on Donnie’s bike. Where the fuck is Donnie? Huh? You think we didn’t notice that?” “Donnie told me to come. I wanted to get my Petra and hit the open road and follow Donnie’s plan.” “Plan?” “To start again.” Petra shook her head. “Donnie would never say that.” “Then why were you and the other girlfriends told to pack your bags?” “That was hours ago.” Mark nodded. He’d been gone over two hours, trying to figure out what was going on with the world tonight. Three times he’d been diverted by cops blocking the streets, pulling over every car and leaning into the driver’s window. More than once, he saw people scream and fight and attack. There were several youth gangs carrying baseball bats and golf clubs. No lights burned in any houses he passed on the way here. Things were seriously messed up, and now the woman he cared about had the same black eyes as those who attacked him. People he once thought were friends, now acted like enemies. And he had

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no idea why. “What happened to you, everyone? The entire fucking town?” The chair leg stopped in mid swing. “You’re not the Petra I knew. You barely speak like her. And look at your clothes, or lack of them. The Petra I knew was bashful, shy, always hiding her nakedness. Who the fuck are you?” Petra blinked rapidly for a full ten seconds, giving Mark more than enough time to get to his feet. “Tommy,” she mumbled. Her eyes came up to meet his. The black was gone. “Tommy, he...” Her words failed. “When he finished, he licked my eyes.” She sniveled. “I ran to Andorra and saw you punch her out.” “I didn’t see you,” he said. “I hid. Under the stairs.” “Where are your clothes?” he asked. “Andorra’s room,” she said. “We gotta get out of here,” he said. “Out of this town.” He grabbed Petra’s free hand, allowing her to hold onto the chair leg. At the door, she pulled on his hand making him stop. He turned as she put a finger to her lips. She moved closer and whispered in his ear, “They’re waiting outside the room.” “For me?” She nodded. “You are the enemy.” “What? This isn’t a war.” “Isn’t it?” Petra pulled him away from the door. “The soldiers that came here, enlisted the others. They have to pass on this gift. You really should see it.”

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“Soldiers?” “Uh-huh.” “There were soldiers where Donnie and I went to tonight. They...umm, stopped us from getting the bike. Donnie was taken down as were our friends.” “That’s why you have his bike?” Mark nodded. The bike. He released Petra’s hand and rushed to the window. Below the glass he saw the awning that covered the side porch. “Perfect,” he muttered. “What?” Petra was at his side and looking down. “No way. I’m not going down there.” Someone knocked on the door. “Hey Petra babe, finished?” “Ignore him,” Mark said. “He’s the soldier from before. I remember his voice.” Mark opened the window. “It’s a short drop to the awning, but it should hold us.” He motioned for her to go first. Petra shook her head. “You first,” he said. Someone knocked on the door harder. “Petra, answer me.” Mark spotted the only chair in the room. He grabbed it and jammed it under the door knob, praying it worked as well as it did in the movies. Someone shoved the door. The chair held it at bay. Mark took her head in his hands and said gently, “Petra, jump.” She looked at him, terror swimming in her eyes. She swallowed hard, and with determination setting her jaw tight,

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she nodded and swung her leg out the window. First her right, then her left. She sat on the window sill, staring down at the awning, with her hands gripping the window frame. “Babe, you gotta jump. It’s the only way.” She leaned her head back and said, “Fine.” She let go of the window frame and slid off the sill. Mark grimaced as her back scraped the hard protruding wood and she yelped in surprise and pain. But thankfully, the awning did hold her weight; he was only guessing it would. She bounced once, grabbed hold of the steel railing and looked up into his eyes. Someone thumped the door knocking the chair back a gyrating centimeter or two, turning it almost free of the knob. The legs squealed on the wooden floor, a warning to Mark that his time was very short. He heeded the warning and slid out the window. He didn’t just let go as Petra had; he held on to the windowsill by his fingertips, positioned his landing spot and released his hold. The awning bent under his weight, buckled his knees and he lost balance, hit the cover on his side and slid off the end. The ground was hard against his left shoulder, but he let loose no cry of pain; he gritted his teeth and bit down hard until he could stand and the pain throbbed without threat of activating his vocal cords. He stood at the side of the house. No one was around. He stole a quick look through the window and saw right through the empty living room to the empty kitchen to his Triumph waiting patiently for a rider. Everyone, it seemed, had followed the soldier to Petra’s room.

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He looked up at the awning. Petra stared down at him. It was a longer drop than he had thought. Mark lifted his right arm. “Come on, hurry,” he said, a slice of panic coloring his words. Petra didn’t hesitate this time, and jumped off cleanly. She landed next to him, her knees buckled to break the fall. He grabbed her hand as he heard the tremendous sound of bending wood splitting and cracking, then giving way. The chair had served its purpose. From the room came a roar of rage. The soldier leaned out the window a moment later. Mark stared at him defiantly, watching the soldiers black-eyed face twist into the monster of hate. In a soft voice brimming with anger, the soldier spoke two words that made Mark and Petra sprint for the Triumph: “Get them.” He grabbed her hand and pulled her to keep up with him, releasing her only when they got to the bike. Mark practically jumped onto the bike, twisted the key that he had left in the ignition and punched the start button. The iron horse roared into life. Its growl loud and designed to be heard. Petra jumped on behind him, wrapped her arms around his waist and Mark kicked the beast into first, released the clutch a little too fast and caused the bike to perform a small wheel stand. Suddenly he stopped at the rear entrance. He stared into the kitchen, could hear the old friends coming for him; some yelled, others gave primal roars of a hunt. “What the hell are you doing?” Petra asked.

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Mark didn’t answer. He barely heard her. His focus was fully trained on the voices and the pounding of their feet down the steps. Even from outside, he heard them. Heard them coming for him and Petra, and he revved the bike, keeping the clutch engaged. The wars cries grew louder as they entered the kitchen. Mark watched them push past and shove one another to the side in their eagerness to be the first to get him and Petra. Almost as one they charged out the door. Petra screamed, “Mark, what the fuck are you doing?� She clutched his waist tighter as if they were about to take a series of hairpin turns. The old friends, now black-eyed enemies, charged through the door and onto the cigarette-scarred and beerstained patio. Mark dropped the clutch, twisted the throttle and tilted the Triumph, sending a spray of loose stones and dirt and broken bottles hurtling toward the fuckers. He saw the stones hit faces and eyes and necks of the oncoming horde. Some fell, others stopped and protected themselves. All of them fell back. Mark righted the bike and, with the rear tire still spinning faster then he was moving, he rounded the house. And saw the soldier still at the window, watching him with a bemused smile playing the corner of his lips. With a jarring force, the rear tire finally gripped the ground and the bike shot forward. Mark dropped into second and almost tipped the bike in his haste to exit the driveway. At almost the same time, he heard another iron horse neigh to life, quickly followed by another and another and yet another. Shortly they would all be on his tail, and Mark had no

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idea what to do or where to go. All he thought of was watching the corners, keeping the throttle open and staying in front of the bastards. He turned off his lights, lit down side streets at random and a couple of times circled back the way he’d come. He could always hear their shouts above the rumble of their beasts. Petra’s grip on him was very tight, and his head still throbbed from her strike from behind. She’d been under a powerful influence, he assumed, like the others in the house. Something that made their eyes turn black as if their soul was lost; burnt black by the sulfur fires of Hell. He hit a tight corner onto a darkened side street. The houses were all dark. Rusted gutted vehicles and worn out bicycles lay on driveways and footpaths. Lawns were unkempt and the houses were mostly weatherboard and in dire need of some paint. And not just a touch up either. But it wasn’t the houses or the location he had ventured into—an area that spanned a good several blocks before improvement to the living standards started to show—that he liked about this impoverished area, it was the hedges. Most houses were fenced in by hedges, some almost two meters tall. Mark didn’t know he was going to do it until he did it. He stopped the bike and parked it behind a corner hedged house. Using only his legs, he wheeled it backwards as far as it would go and killed the engine. Petra’s hold on him loosened. “Are we hiding?” Mark nodded, then turned to her and brought his finger to his lips, hushing her. The sound of Triumphs filled the night; they grew louder as the horde neared. Near the far corner, he saw

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headlights lean into the street while other bikes continued in a straight path. The roar of the iron horses, a sound Mark no longer fancied, grew louder as they approached his hiding spot. Petra tensed against him, hugging him tighter and tighter the closer they came. And suddenly they zipped past, fourteen bikes in all. He heard the bikes slow and drop gear as they rounded a corner and rushed to other streets in their search. Petra’s grip on him loosened again. Silence reigned as the sound of angry Triumphs faded in the distance. But he didn’t take off straight away. Mark waited. His ears tensed to the sound of motorbikes, and his mind in a flurry of what to do and where to go. Petra kissed his neck. “That was a good idea,” she said. Her tongue licked under his ear, then probed into it. “We have to get going,” he said without conviction. He felt the heat of blood flood his groin, the growing stiffness and her breasts pressed against his back. Felt how close her body was to his, her hot breath on his neck and the growing need between his legs. “Ever fucked on a Triumph?” Petra asked, her voice husky and hot. She didn’t wait for Mark to answer. Her hand slid to the bulge in his jeans and gently squeezed and tugged his manhood. “Now,” she said. “Do it here now.” “No,” he said and instantly felt the heat leave his body. Petra kept trying, her licks lasted longer and her hot breath... hotter. “Turn around,” she commanded. “Look at me.”

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“We have to get going,” he said again. A good ten minutes must have passed by now, plenty of time. He couldn’t ever hear the faintest sound of a motorbike. Only her whispered command filled the night, “Look at me.” He kicked down the stand and turned to her. Maybe, she was right. Petra smiled at him with black eyes. Her right fist swung out and although it wasn’t a powerful punch, it had the desired effect and knocked Mark off the bike. Trying to gain balance during the surprise fall, his foot twisted and he hit the ground. Petra was off the bike in an instant. She sat on his stomach and leaned forward making it impossible for him to get up. “What the fuck are you doing?” In the distance, he heard the sound of a motorbike. A single bike on a lone run. “Petra, please.” She shook her head. “My dear, sweet Mark,” she said, her head still moving side to side. “You could never escape with me, but you can be with me.” The motorbike was growing louder and Mark thought it was coming straight to them. As if, somehow, the rider knew exactly where they were. Petra leaned to him. “It’s wonderful,” she whispered. Mark spat in her face. He had done it without thinking and for a moment was shocked. But he had to remind himself that the woman on top of him wasn’t the woman he knew this afternoon. The rumble of the oncoming bike was upon them. It was another Triumph, he would never forget the distinctive

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sound of eight hundred and forty horses. Petra wiped the spit off her cheek and brought her fingers to her lips. Slowly, seductively she licked the spit off her fingers and drank it down. The Triumph pulled into the driveway. Mark wasn’t surprised to see the soldier climb off. He was smiling as he approached. “What a waste of a fine, young man,” he said. From under his army style jacket, he pulled out a gun the likes Mark had only seen in movies. It was bulky, black and had a laser sight. He looked at his chest and saw the red dot making tiny circles as the soldier twirled the gun in his hand. “Fuck you.” It was the only thing that came to mind, so he said it. The end for him was near, and total defiance seemed the only action worthy of his final moments. The soldier stopped at Mark’s side. To Petra, he said, “Get off.” She nodded and climbed off him. She took up position at his side. “Kneel,” the soldier said. Mark didn’t move. “Kneel!” he shouted, and still Mark refused to move. He looked up into the soldier’s eyes and said vehemently, “Shoot me or fuck off, ‘cause there’s no way in Hell I would ever kneel before you.” “Very well,” the soldier said. He turned the gun on Petra and blew her brains out while keeping his eyes on Mark. “As you wish.” The body toppled lifeless to the ground, bone and meat splattered the hedge and grass. Mark scrambled back in shock, his arms propelling him toward his bike.

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The soldier slowly step up to him. “Then stand and die like a man,” he ordered. Mark swallowed hard, his fingers shook and heartbeat thrashed a heavy metal tempo against his ribs. Fear got him to his feet. He would not die on the ground but he would hit it shortly. For a maddening second he wondered when his life, pathetic as it was, would pass before his eyes. All he saw was the soldier raising the gun and knowing that the red dot was on the center of his forehead. Someone moved behind the soldier. Mark thought he was seeing things, when another carrying a baseball bat ran forward. The soldier turned as the bat came swinging down and slammed into his forehead. The force of the hit turned the soldier to face Mark, the gun still aimed in his direction but wavering. Even from this distance, he saw the dent of crushed skull and the blood leaking from the cracked skin. The soldier dropped his gun, his knees wobbled and like a sack of potatoes he hit the ground. His body twitched, and the bat carrier drove three more strikes to the head turning parts of it into pulp. Mark stared in silence at the gathering group. One held a torch and shone it on Mark’s face, mainly the eyes. The beam wasn’t strong and didn’t force him to squint. “He’s one of us,” the torch-holder said. A girl no more than twenty walked up to him. He couldn’t see the color of her eyes in the darkness, but he saw the white. The girl softly touched his arm. “It’s okay,” she said gently. Her hand slid down to his and gripped it firmly.

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“You’re with us, now.” All this sounded wrong to Mark. He wanted out of here and away from the corpse. “I have to find my friend, Simon. We were meant to meet in the city.” “Jesus, you’re not going there are you?” the girl asked. “I wish, I could stay,” Mark lied. He shook his head and headed to his Triumph. He stopped at the dead corpse which had once been his dream woman. His actions to this point were still a little foggy in his head, he had to focus on one thing only and for the time being, that was finding Simon. There was an emptiness inside him for Petra, it made his chest hollow and feel dry. Mark swallowed a lump that had risen at her loss, leaned the bike into a tight right turn and roared toward the city, as rain that looked purple in his headlight, started to fall. The rain blended with his tears.

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Chapter 37 Friday 2227 The purple rain started slowly at first, but quickly gathered speed and power. Within minutes it had become a downpour, battering houses, vehicles and people. Purple water filled the gutters and overflowed drains and created small rivers across uneven roads. People inside houses watched the rain fall. Watched it splash in puddles. Watched it flood the hedges and gardens and wash away small weak plants. It fell hard, slowly making its way into the city center. It washed over the corpses scattered on front lawns and lying in backyards. It rolled under garage openings and seeped to the suicides lying on cold concrete floors. It fell through open windows and touched the dead and living. And as it fell, no one noticed the corpses twitch.

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Chapter 38 Friday 2230 1 Darkness still fumed. He had made another error, an error that could very well cost him dearly. All the monitors were smashed now. All thrown to the floor in his rage. The mall was not a safe haven. He grabbed his cell phone and dialed Nick. The phone rang several times. Listening to the battle rage downstairs, he watched the wall clock tick past twenty, twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five. He killed the connection after forty seconds. Darkness opened the door leading to a flight of steps, which lead to another door at the bottom that opened onto the main corridor of the mall. He could hear the shouts clearly from here, though the number had dwindled drastically. Someone banged against the door, then it sounded like someone’s head was hitting the door. Darkness smiled. This was going to be fun. He bounced down the steps and swung the door open wide, knocking whoever was on the other side to the floor. The two continued the fight unaware of him. A white-eyed teenager had the upper hand against a man who was old enough to be his father. Darkness grabbed the youth by the hair and pulled him away from the older man. The kid yelled and screamed, grabbed at the hands and thrashed about trying to free himself.

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A sound like ripping paper followed and the kid fell to the floor, a patch of hair and skin ripped from his head. The older man quickly got to his feet. His face was a mess of blood and his nose looked severely broken. He nodded thanks at Darkness who returned the nod. The man smiled an evil grin at the fallen kid and proceeded to kick his face with heavy work boots. Darkness walked on. Nearing the entrance he spotted Taelob, an aura of white light around the black body. His eyes matched the harshness of the aura as he gazed at the battle before him. He was busy looking and talking, barking orders to those who listened. Darkness ducked into a shop to avoid being seen. He was in a sporting goods store. Rackets lined both sides of the aisle and skiwear and a few surfboards leaned against the walls. Gloves and hats to match were next to these items and on the opposite wall rested fishing rods, small harpoons and an assortment of hooks, tackle and spearing rods. At the rear of the shop, he found what he wanted—a service counter with a room behind it, closed off by a thin curtain. Darkness went to the counter and drew the curtain. He was hoping for a rear door, like a lot of shops had, but all he found was the painted window advertising itself, and a small kitchen with an overflowing ashtray. He stepped into the room, pulling the curtain shut behind him and inspected the rest of the room, hoping there was a door hidden at the side somewhere. But he was out of luck. The back room was pretty much bare itself. Three chairs and a small table with a crossbow and a few steel arrows stood next to an open cleaning kit. In the corner next to the small kitchen, which consisted of one burner and a

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microwave, stood a coat rack where a few coats hung without owners. “Hello Darian.” Darkness froze. He peeked around the corner. Through the curtain he saw the large Maori looking around the sporting shop, searching for him. “I saw you enter,” Taelob said. He took a step toward the surfboards. “This has to end. Show yourself like a man.” Darkness stepped forward. His leg bumped the small table and his eyes fell on the crossbow. “Do you expect me to do nothing after you killed my family?” he said, picking up the crossbow and pulling the wire back, locking it into place. “I didn’t want a war. I wanted my family.” He slid the steel arrow through the groove, matched up the end’s split to the wire and felt a soft click. He tilted the crossbow and the arrow remained in place, it didn’t fall out like he thought it would. “You lost that war, Darian. You paid the price and now this must end.” “No. It ends when I say. Not you. Not Echock. Me.” He hid the crossbow behind his back and walked through the curtain. The service counter was high enough to conceal the weapon, so he lowered it to give a more natural stance. “You never fought me. You and the other Elders hid like scared children behind your army.” Taelob stepped away from the surfboards and into the direct line of fire. “Darian,” Taelob said softly, “What are you doing? Black eyes? An infection from the pit of Hades on modern man.” He shook his head. “Why?” “My reasons do not need to be spoken. I do wonder

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how you came to be here. Me, I climbed out of the pit, I climbed into this world. You, on the other hand, have no right to be here. These people don’t care for the Elders of old. They don’t need your kind.” “Yet they have Presidents, Prime Ministers, Judges, Lawyers and courts. Different names, same job.” Taelob held up the rope. “It’s time to finish.” “Another beach? More suffering?” “Only water can bring your end. We are not stupid, Darian. We have never been stupid. You should not underestimate us. We know more than you think and do not want to risk you seeping into another body.” “If I could do such things,” Darkness said, his finger found the trigger mechanism, “why have I not transferred to another already. You know my face. Why have I not changed?” Taelob sighed. He shrugged his shoulders. “Only you know.” Darkness nodded, only he had no idea why he hadn’t taken the time to switch bodies. “I’m not going with you.” He swung the crossbow up, took rough aim and squeezed the trigger. The bow jumped in his hand but the steel arrow flew on course. Taelob caught it in his left hand and tossed it to the floor. “You get your wish to battle the Elders. And I am the first.” Darkness leapt over the counter... Taelob charged him... A primal scream erupted from both of them as they collided, fists flying. Entangled, they crashed into the stands advertising sportswear. They clawed at each other’s face, going

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for the eyes, their point of power. Taelob flipped Darkness over his shoulder into the aisle. Darkness was on his feet instantly. White light shot from Taelob to Darkness, he put up a hand to block it and screamed at the fire erupting around his hand. But he held firm. Taelob stopped the light; redirected it. Darkness dove to the side, his right hand black and smoking. He landed next to the steel arrow. He grabbed it with his left hand by the point and threw it like a knife at Taelob. The white light ended instantly. Taelob reached for the spinning arrow. And mistimed. The arrow flicked over his clasped fingers and entered his neck. Blood sprayed like an exploded balloon. An expression of confusion covered Taelob’s features. Darkness wasted no time. He charged Taelob and drove him back into the wall. With all his might and no resistance, Darkness punched the arrow with the palm of his burnt hand until it stuck in the wall. He grabbed a racket and hammered it even more, making sure it stuck firm. He took a step back and wiped blood from his face. Taelob’s neck stopped squirting. The blood flowed smoothly around the arrow’s shaft. Life’s liquid ebbing away. “Where are the others?” he asked. Taelob smiled. He tried to say something but all that came away was a gurgled, bubbling sound. “Are they outside the main entrance? West, South? Where?” His voice rose with each question, but Taelob remained silent. Taelob’s front was covered in blood and his dark face was turning pale. “Redeem yourself,” Darkness said softly. “Tell me what I want to know.”

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With what appeared to be his last ounce of energy, Taelob spat blood into Darkness’s face. “Go back to Hell,” he managed before his body fell limp. Darkness wiped off the spit. “You first.” He drove his index finger into Taelob’s left eye. The orb moved sideways like a rubber ball. He kept the pressure until the eye reached its limit and exploded in a torrent of thick slimly juice. It rolled past the bottom eyelid and slid down Taelob’s cheek. Darkness kept the pressure constant and pushed the optical sensors against the brain until he felt it move. He pushed harder, wanting to take out part of Taelob’s brain but his finger was too short for the task. He removed his finger and pulled out the spear. Taelob dropped to the floor. His complexion was pale and lifeless, but Darkness needed to make sure. He drove the steel arrow into the heart. 2

At the front entrance to the sporting goods store, Darkness glanced back and saw the lifeless body still devoid of existence. Taelob was gone for good. The fighting continued in the hallway, but the front entrance was surrounded by white-eyed guards. There was no fighting in that area. He turned in a slow circle, taking in all sounds, actions and sights. Accepting the blood and the death toll, Darkness realized he was about to lose again. The main force of his army was here and the battle didn’t look good. The Elders had built a vicious army to offset his.

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Behind him, the sound of shattering glass, screaming metal and snapping timber assaulted the area. Darkness turned in time to see a van crash though the sporting goods store from the outside. It smashed through the counter and bounced over fallen displays and Taelob. It came to a stop a few from Darkness. Nick was behind the wheel. He jumped out, waving his cell phone and said, “Battery’s dead.” He tossed it over his shoulder. Darkness looked to the entrance. All the guards seemed to have finally noticed him, which wasn’t at all surprising, there was after all a van in the corridor. The van was leaning to one side and steam rose from the radiator. “We have to return to Head Office,” Darkness said, making his way to the passenger side. He stopped and noticed both flat tires on this side. Large chunks of glass protruded from them. He headed to the back of the van intending to take the new exit to the parking lot and the waiting street when the rear doors flew open and some of the meanest looking men Darkness had ever laid eyes on exited. They strode past him and walked straight into the oncoming guards. Darkness watched as they made short work of the task. White was conquered and black reclaimed its rightful position. They quickly spread out. “Some of my old army friends,” Nick explained. Darkness nodded his approval. “I heard that some of our soldiers are on their way here

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as we earlier planned, with many converts.” “Good thinking,” Darkness said. “I’m heading back to HQ. I want to you come by when the other soldiers arrive and everything is under control.” “Right-oh, boss.” Carefully Darkness walked over the broken glass and wood and displays. He ignored the corpse and within a few minutes finally made it to the shattered window. Rain hit the ground, building purple puddles in the uneven sidewalk and parking lot. Most of it hit the gutters and rolled into the sewers. Darkness didn’t think anything of its strange color and stepped out into the night. He was quickly soaked. A sudden change in the wind’s direction forced the rain to redirect, from dropping to slicing the night air at a sharp angle, which allowed a lot of it to shoot through the broken glass and land inside the sports shop. The same was happening at the main entrance. In the distance, lit up by the glow of streets lights, he saw Ball Enterprises rising into the sky. Christopher Ball had built himself an empire, and now it belonged to Darkness. And thanks to Nick, his empire was about to expand at a rapid rate. 3 Mark had the bike at full throttle. He constantly glanced in the rear view mirror looking for the other bikes, the other Triumphs, but thankfully they never materialized. He turned from the open road street into the direction that would take him through the main square and toward the bar.

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Rounding the corner and about to hit the main road, he saw several police cruisers blocking the street. The cops had their back to him. He was still a distance away from them, so he stopped and pulled a U-turn, going back the way he had come. Mark was sure they were more black-eyed people. And if they were blocking the road, surely the entire town was marked. He had to think. There had to be a way to get into the city without the cops or whoever spotting him. And he saw it, staring him right in the face. The field. He knew this place. This was one of the largest dairy farms in Wellington, one of the few profitable farms in operation. He had been here once on a school trip. He recalled the farmer as a gruff man with little humor, and a large family. Perhaps that is why he was winning at this farming game. He also remembered the field went all the way around to the other end of the city, where he could easily hook up and reach ‘The Crossed Arms’. Mark angled the bike and rolled slowly down the road looking for a gate. All he saw in the beam of light was a three lined wire fence. Sometimes a sign was pinned to it that claimed the fence to be electric. At last he found a gate. It was small and wooden and didn’t look like it could hold back any cattle. He rolled the bike there and leaned forward. A thin chain with a padlock held it in place. Mark wheeled the Triumph back onto the road and gunned the engine. He kicked the gear into first and roared to the gate. He hit second and intentionally released the clutch fast, sending the bike into a wheel-stand. The front rose up as

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the gate loomed into view. The engine screamed for third gear as it powered into the gate, smashing its way through. He released the throttle and the wheel dropped. He stopped to look at the damage and slow his pounding heart. The chain had held to the frame well enough but the rest of the gate was totaled. Dropping the bike into first gear, Mark roared along the muddy field generally pleased it had worked. He guessed the movies were right sometimes. Mud kicked up around him as he sliced across the land, heading away from the cops blocking the road and hoping to avoid the other cops at the opposite side of town. It was difficult to judge how far he had ridden in the pitch blackness raped only by the beam from his bike. Thinking he had gone far enough to be safe, he leaned the bike toward the farmer’s cottage. Cottage was the wrong word, Mark knew. The house was huge and set well away from the road. He headed in that direction with no intention of using the driveway or getting too close to the house. He remembered the track the tractor used to take from one end of the farm to the other. He had forgotten all about it until now, and was glad he remembered. The rain was falling hard and riding in the mud was challenging to say the least. The farmer’s house came into view. All the lights were on. Did they know what was going on? Did they know the city was ending? Or was the family blissfully unaware and watching television? Opposite the house on his side was a rickety shed with the nose of a red tractor poking out the front. The dirt road was

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directly in front of him. It was white with small pebbles and stones and easy to navigate. Slowing the bike, he hit the pebble road when a shot rang out kicking up several stones near the bike’s front wheel. Mark didn’t need to guess what that was. He twisted the throttle and powered down the path, the bike’s end slipped occasionally but he managed to keep control. A second shot didn’t intrude on the sound of his bike and Mark kept the power strong until the path veered off and he saw another small fence, only this one was steel. Mark wondered if he could pull the same trick as he had done with the old gate. He doubted it though, and stopped to check the status of his latest obstacle. This time it was chained to a metal pole. Henry figured this gate was perhaps too close to the house for the farmer to chance someone breaking in. Mark didn’t want to break in, he wanted to break out. He was about to go further along to find an easier gate or a break in the fence, when he noticed the chain sat atop the metal crossbeam. He dismounted and lifted the chain. It came off easily. Obviously someone hadn’t been very careful when they’d locked this gate. The gate swung open. The bottom scraped across the road and Mark remounted the bike. The ‘Crossed Arms’ wasn’t too far from here. Ten minutes should do it. He suddenly realized Simon might not be there. He had no idea how much of the city was gone nor how many blackeyed people roamed the streets. It was also possible that Simon had become one of them. He wasn’t ready to accept that yet— probably never would.

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Mark twisted back the throttle and leaned heavily into the corners, and rode low on the bike, trying to break any or all wind resistance. He passed a few houses scattered along the landscape, then the private road leading to the prison, rounded the curve and saw the sub divisions coming into view. A whole batch of executive-style homes stood dark in the night, outlined by the streetlights. He swept past them at eighty miles an hour. The bike was roaring, its horses reaching their potential. Mark hooked a left off Main Street and took Cathedral Avenue. He was nearing the city center. Houses and apartment blocks rose on both sides; cars lined the street. He passed a few small shops, a computer parts store and next to it a fish and chips place he and Simon had visited on more than one occasion. The bikes speed was down to fifty miles an hour and dropping. Too many obstacles and tight turns for high speed. A woman stumbled out onto the road. She wore a blood-stained off-white wedding dress. Part of her face was torn. She stared at the bike as Mark swerved and roared past her. A shiver ran the length of his spine. Her eyes weren’t black. They looked dead. In the rear vision mirror, he saw her watch him ride away in the purple rain. He looked to the road as a kid walked out in front of him. Mark hit the brakes. The kid looked at him. Screamed. Mark leaned to the left and dropped the bike. It skidded across the wet road. It came to a stop against a BMW, denting the front door

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and setting off the alarm. Mark slowly got to his feet. His head was spinning. He turned to check on the kid, and stars exploded behind his eyes. His vision swirled and for a brief second he thought he was going to pass out. The fear of passing out in this area with the deadlooking woman down the road, instantly brought him quickly to his senses. The kid was staring at him. He couldn’t have been older than ten. The kid smiled. Mark stopped in his tracks. He could see the kid’s teeth through torn cheeks, with what looked like teeth marks surrounding the missing flesh. A soft groan snagged his attention. The woman in the wedding dress was shuffling up the road toward him; but it wasn’t her that had groaned. It came from a large black man, Mark hadn’t noticed before, in a sitting position against a fence. The man got to his feet. His eyes were the color of coal. His chest was a litter of shotgun pellets and blood. The shirt he wore was torn and Mark swore he could see some body organs. The black guy stumbled forward and for a moment looked as if he had forgotten how to walk. He swayed a little from side to side, and finally managed to place his right foot in front of his left. Mark grabbed the bike. It was heavy as hell to lift, yet he managed with urgency pushing him on and self-preservation forcing him to hurry. He climbed onto the bike. In the rear vision mirror, he saw the woman standing next to the child, holding his hand.

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Together they advanced. The black man joined them but couldn’t keep up. The key was already in the ‘on’ position, so he pressed the starter button. The engine turned but didn’t fire. Come on, babe, Mark urged. He tried again. Same result. Mark looked over his shoulder. They were less than thirty feet from him. He could see the hunger in their eyes and the determination in their dead features as the rain continued to pour down. Their feet splashed small puddles on the raindrenched road. Please, baby, please. The Triumph struggled to start. Come on, sweet thing. They were less than fifteen feet away, and Mark saw the woman smile in his mirror. Come on you piece of fucking shit! The engine caught and fired up. The Iron Horse was ready to speed him the fuck out of here. Thank you, sweetie. He kicked the gear into first. The woman was on him instantly. She wrapped her arm around his neck in a headlock, and tried to pull him off the bike. Mark felt his body start to slide her way. Her hot breath was on his neck. Do it or die, he thought and released the clutch, twisted the throttle as far as his wrist would allow, and held on tight. Begging she didn’t take a bite out of him. The bike lurched forward, the front wheel rose and he quickly released the throttle. The woman jerked, but held on

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tight. Her breath was no longer on his neck but her grip on him had tightened. He kicked into second gear, half off the bike and half on. Using all of his focus, he kept the bike as upright as he could, pushing the handle bars in the opposite direction he was leaning, but still the bike glided across the road. The ditch loomed ahead. And the bike was angled for a direct collision. The woman practically hung off his neck, unable to keep up with the speed of the bike. She wasn’t about to let go easily, neither. Taking a chance, he released the left handle and drove an elbow into her face. She held on. He steadied the bike and drove his elbow into her again. Her arm slipped. Using the foot rest, Mark forced himself onto the seat proper and slammed his elbow into her face repeatedly. He felt her dropping, her grip almost gone and felt her feet trying to grip the road or anything to steady herself. She failed as Mark kicked the screaming bike into third gear and ripped into the night. He let out a cry as her fingernails tore flesh from his neck in a feeble attempt to hold on. In his mirror, he saw her get to her feet. Mark kicked the bike into fourth and rounded a corner that would take him to a side street that would take him to the side entrance of the Crossed Arms. The blood rolling down his neck was warm, but he felt the rain wash it away almost instantly. Try as hard as he could, he could not rid himself of one thought that suddenly popped into his head, something he had

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learned from many Zombie movies. Two simple words etched fear into the deepest regions of his soul: I’m fucked.

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Chapter 39 Friday 2245 1 Baxter leaned against the car and wondered how much time had been lost. The rain wasn’t letting up. Around his feet small puddles grouped in potholes and roared to the gutter. It didn’t look like normal rain. But then again, nothing seemed normal since eight this morning. It had been one hell of a day and Baxter couldn’t wait for it to end. What he learned from the Elders, especially the one inside his head, caused him to think that Darian was not the only bad guy in this fiasco. He killed thousands, Echock said inside his head, the voice booming and full of authority. And at the end, he spat in the face of God. What more proof would you like of his evil deeds? Perhaps the fact he returned from the dead? There was a short pause. Then, He killed us! “Not us, you.” He came from the bowels of Hell. From what Baxter had seen and experienced today, he knew it was right. Whatever Darian had been, he wasn’t any longer. He was something more than his earlier days. He was Darkness. Whatever had happened in Hell had returned him with a curse attached. An end to this world. And it was up to him and the Elders to somehow stop him. “But how?” he asked Echock.

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There was no answer. Just as he thought. They didn’t know either. He pulled the .38 from his holster and checked the chambers were full. How could he be stopped? How did one stop Darkness. He spun the chamber wheel and flicked it shut. He thumbed off the safety and holstered it. He looked at the mall again. The windows were smashed and people were slowly making their way into the parking lot. From this distance he couldn’t see the color of their eyes nor any of their features. It kind of looked like they were shuffling forward. He scanned the crowd but couldn’t see Darkness. Or at least, Echock couldn’t see Darkness as he remained silent. He couldn’t see Taelob either. Something was not right. Taelob was the type of person who stood out in a crowd, but he was nowhere to been seen. Could he still be inside? Why would he be inside? Echock asked. And I don’t see any white light. Something dashed across the street far down near the end of the mall, where the back driveway was for delivery trucks. Baxter didn’t notice it, but Echock did. He saw everything in wide screen 180 degree vision. There! Echock yelled, causing Baxter to grab at his temples from the pain of the loudness. “Down there! He took flight down the street.” Baxter looked but couldn’t see anything. “Are you sure?” “Never ask me such a foolish question again.” Nodding, as if Echock could see him, Baxter took a deep breath and ran as fast as he dared on the rain slicked

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street. He reached the driveway. “That way,” Echock said. Part way down the street, Baxter saw a figure running. “Freeze,” he yelled. The person stopped, looked over his shoulder and then continued running, faster this time. Taking the .38 from his holster, he ran and aimed at the center of the man’s back. Keeping his steps as steady as possible, he squeezed the trigger. The gun jumped in his hand and at almost the same time, the figure arched is back and let loose a cry as the bullet ripped through his side. Baxter took aim again, slowing his pace a little. The figure suddenly dashed down a side street and vanished from view. Baxter followed. He reached the street seconds later and found it empty. Further down Baxter rushed into a backstreet. His feet slapped the wet road as he came to a stop and glanced down each street. The bastard had vanished. 2 He watched Baxter stand at the crossroad. The agent took a few steps down each street, not once looking at the few houses lining both sides. Darkness hid behind a shrub against a fence. He had tensed with every footfall of the agent, ready for a fight or, even better, taking over his body. That was unlikely though. Baxter was too strong. A stab of pain shot through Darkness, the bullet did its job and did it well. The need to exit this body was strong, but

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he held on. Though he wasn’t sure why. He could not risk leaving yet. If he went to his true shadow form, one of the Elders would spot him and with their weapon of white light...Darkness would burn. Baxter’s bullet had gone right through. In the faint light, he saw the blood on his clothes, some Taelob’s, most of it belonged to Christopher Ball. Darkness’s hands gripped the pained area and he grimaced at the touch not once removing his eyes from Baxter. This body kept the blood flowing through the hole and he had no idea how to plug it up. His hands would have to do, for now. Energy seeped with the flow of blood. He sat against a fence with rain battering him every second, waiting for Baxter to choose a direction. The agent still hadn’t looked back, it was doubtful he could see Darkness, like Darkness could see him. Baxter turned. He looked up the street a moment, scanning the shadows. Darkness ducked lower, shrub leaves almost obscured his view. He watched Baxter take a few steps back, holster his weapon and remove his cell phone. He dialed a number, then waited. A moment later he was talking. It was hard to hear Baxter over the pounding rain, so Darkness gave up and relaxed, trying to catch his breath and stem the bleeding. The agent pocketed his phone, wiped rain from his face, and brushed his hair back. He kept looking around at the streets and neighboring houses. Darkness felt his eyes growing heavy. He was so tempted to leave this body, but he held on. He forced his eyes to remain open.

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“Darian.” Darkness blinked. Standing before him in a portal of light, were his wife and son. They held hands and looked at him with pity. “Heather?” he muttered. “It’s time to come with us.” Darkness shook his head. “Not yet.” “All has been forgiven. Peter will open the gates for you.” Heather smiled. “We miss you, my love.” “You, you, ye words be different,” he said slipping to his old tongue. Heather shook her head. “Time moves on, even up there.” She bent down and placed an ethereal hand against his cheek. “The blood is a ticking clock,” she said, removing her hand. “You have honored us many times over, my love. It is time for you to rest.” Darkness stared at the image of his son. He could see the wound through the clothes and felt a new rage build up. “Ye be correct,” he said. “I love ye and Antony much, but time of us be over.” “Darian?” “Tell Saint Peter to—in the words of modern man—to blow me.” Heather staggered back as if slapped hard across the cheek. Her face turned pale, as did his son’s. “Papa?” “I be sorry, Antony.” His heart almost tore apart seeing them and rejecting them. All this had been for them. Sadly, that was no longer true.

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The sound of a car swept down the street, stealing his attention. A late model Ford skidded to a halt next to Baxter. He climbed into the passenger seat and the car took off with squealing tires on the rain soaked street. He looked back to where his son and wife stood, but they were gone. He had done the right thing in making his choice between them and his goal for his new son. God hadn’t helped him when he begged, but God’s opposite had rushed to his side and offered him this chance. His allegiance would forever lie there. He watched the taillights disappear down the street. When they vanished from sight, he slowly got to his feet. His body protested, shooting pain across his waist. Each step around the fence and onto the road was agony. He didn’t think he was going to make it. Everyone was white-eyed or black-eyed now. He couldn’t jump into any of them. He was fighting against odds stacked against him. He realized he was the underdog and he didn’t like it. After what seemed like forever, he reached the corner. He looked up the road and saw the mall, bathed in light. Some people were on the street moving into the city, away from him. A large puddle of rain caught his attention. It was purple in the streetlight above it. Purple? Cupping his hands he caught some drops and stared at the strangely colored rain. He sniffed it. There was a faint odor to it. It smelt like death. And Darkness knew that smell, he knew it very well. He flicked the rain away and wiped his hands on his soaked trousers. A sudden shock of pain ripped across his waist. Sharp and violent, it dropped him to his knees. A groan escaped him.

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His true essence demanded freedom. There was no choice now, he had to be free of this form. The body collapsed on its side. The mouth opened... “Oh my Lord,” a woman said. “He needs help.” “I don’t know,” a male voice said. “Jesus, Simon, he’s been shot. One of them wouldn’t be shot, would they?” The body gagged...Darkness pushed its way out, a dark shadow against the purple rain-slicked streets. 3 Simon grabbed Katrina by the shoulders and pulled her back. He saw the shadow pushing out of the mouth, and although he couldn’t believe his eyes, he couldn’t ignore it either. The shadow rose up before them. Grabbing Katrina’s arm, he yanked her away from the thing and instinctively put himself in front of her. This was the end of the line and he knew it, felt it. “Run Katrina. Run, now.” He released her arm. “Fucking run.” The shadow seemed to look over his shoulder, then back at Simon. “Fuck you,” Simon said trying to hide the tremble in his voice. His heart beat madly against his ribs; his fingers twitched and he waited for there was nothing else to do. The shadow moved up against his face and exploded. Simon inhaled the essence. His nose and throat burned. He swallowed involuntarily and extreme heat erupted in his stomach. His vision clouded.

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Flying across his vision with incredible speed he saw his mother smiling at him—he was a baby looking at her; first year, second, third, fourth, fifth, tenth, thirteenth—him and Mark meeting at school—Mark showing his some green tobacco—then smoking it; fourteen, fifteen—high school— fun—teachers—laughter—good grades—school yard fights— bloodied nose—Tina slapping his face, sixteen—more weed; fights with mom; mom and her new best friend, alcohol— grades drop—making out with Joan, Ericka, Michelle; seventeen—his first time with Juliet Davis at her parents’ house—first Linux computer—learning programming—graphic design—starting his game; eighteen—signing apartment papers with Mark—the girl they shared—his first job—car accident— Mark covered in blood—hospital—police—Simon three months in prison—showers—rapid fights—guards looking the other way—incitation—freedom—new apartment; twenty, twenty-two, twenty-four, twenty-seven—new job—Mark smoking weed—always a cloud of smoke—Simon fired—more weed—the ‘Crossed Arms’ bar—Katrina—cops—running— the streets—purple rain—the shadow... All of it in a flash of light that quickly faded to black. His life in the blink of an eye. Simon regretted it all. Colors flooded his vision—yellow, orange, red, lime, green, brown...black. “Goodbye, Simon,” Darkness said. He turned and looked for any sign of the woman. She was long gone. Simon hadn’t put up a fight. That was confusing, almost everyone did, even the old man and the kid. Strange. He attempted to access Simon’s memory files and was surprised to discover they’d been erased. As if he had never

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existed. Sounds up the street snagged his attention. People yelling, fighting, engines revving. He still could not see Hern in all the mess. Maybe he was weeping over Taelob’s death. The thought brought a smile to Darkness’s new face. He had to be quick. He had to get to the office as soon as possible, he wasn’t sure why. The driving need to get there was overwhelming. He could barely think of anything else. The fastest way was through the crowd. Maybe the car Baxter had climbed into was driven by Hern. It was as possible as was the likelihood that Hern was hidden in the crowd or still in the mall, sorting through all the mess and looking for him. Darkness had to be fully alert. And he was. A couple of white eyes stopped to watch him. Darkness washed his eyes to the color of Simon’s before he was close enough for them to see him clearly, especially in this rain. He passed them without incident. A few steps later a black-eyed warrior grabbed him. Effortlessly, he tossed the man aside. No one else challenged him as he passed the crowd. He stopped to look at the mall. There were still a lot of people in there mixed with a lot of blood and motionless bodies scattered about. Hern was not in sight. He neared the side street to the mall, keeping his pace even and headed directly for Ball Enterprises...and Nina. His beautiful Nina and their unborn son. Running steps came from the left of him and he realized he’d lost his concentration.

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He turned in time to see Henry, his ex-protector, charge him. But in the white light emitted from the eyes he saw... “Hern,” Darkness hissed as Simon’s eyes sliced to black.

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Chapter 40 Friday 2250 1 Mark reached the ‘Crossed Arms’ without further incident. It had been an easy ride through the rain and empty streets that followed after his run-in with the dead. Apart from a few police cruisers in the parking lot, the ‘Crossed Arms’ looked deserted. He heard no music, no loud teenagers hanging around outside, no doorman. No one and nothing. Simon wasn’t here. No living human was here. There was no point investigating further. Still, he pulled the bike to the side of the road, kicked down the stand and killed the motor, fully intending to enter the bar. Mark was being stupid, he knew that much, but he also knew he had to check. Stealthily he crossed the curb to the edge of the parking lot and looked around. The police cruisers were empty; no racket or commotion came from inside. All was deathly quiet. He approached the door. His heart hammered against his ribs. He grabbed the handle and pushed. It opened part way, something on the side blocked it. He gave it a harder shove. The door opened a little more and an arm fell into view. A female’s hand, soft-looking and manicured and with an engagement ring on the appropriate finger.

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Mark pushed a bit more, making enough room for him to enter. It was a bloodbath. The results of a slasher film in reality. The hand, he discovered, belonged to a female police officer. The bar stools were empty; bits of meat and hairy flesh were scattered around a shotgun; a couple slumped on overturned tables and the dance floor was a massacre. Bodies with shotgun pellets in chests and faces lay under the twirling disco ball. Vomit rushed up his throat. Mark doubled over and puked next to the female officer. It fell silently from his mouth. Rain dripped off his soaked body, ran down his neck and face. He stood upright and wiped his mouth and shook excess rain drops from his head. The smell in here was rancid, and not just from his puke, either. He carefully stepped over the bodies and scattered meat, and made his way to the other side of the bar. Smashed bottles and glasses littered the floor. Many spirits were mixed in a puddle surrounded by glass and drops of blood. He tried the back room and found the door locked. Tucking his shoulder into his side, he charged the door. It gave a little under protest but didn’t burst open. He tried a second time. Failed, but the door didn’t fall back into a fully locked position. It had a gap. On the third try, it flew open to reveal a storeroom. Piles of boxed alcohol lined part of the west side wall. Some chairs were lined up next to it and a few broken tall bar stools were stacked neatly next to that. A very orderly desk had an in-box and an out-box with

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neatly stacked papers. He went to the back door. It opened easily onto the side exit where his bike waited for him. He had never noticed it before. The light from inside spewed onto the short concrete path leading to the sidewalk and illuminated a black wallet. Mark opened it. Simon’s face stared at him from the driver’s license. A sigh of relief exited him. He had gotten out. Thank God. Where the hell could he be then? Home? Where else would he go? Mark rushed to his bike, climbed on and started the Iron Horse. He kicked it into gear, revved the engine and about to take off—stopped. He listened closely, thinking he had heard a scream from inside. It wasn’t repeated, if it had happened at all. Mark shrugged it off as wind and rain and sped off down the street. The rain battered his face every second of the way. 2 In the bar, the policewoman’s hand twitched. The chunks of meat, where the rain from Mark had fallen, also twitched. The policewoman’s eyes snapped open. Dark blue eyes, lifeless looked at the roof. She saw the shadow bats sleeping on the roof. She sat up, looked at her surroundings and saw the dead. A scream, high pitched and bred from re-birth ripped through the bar. Rain washed through the open door. She stumbled to

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the door and stared outside. With every slash of rain that struck her, she felt more revitalized. Her fingers lost all stiffness, her neck moved more freely than it had seconds ago. She took a large deep breath and suddenly understood. She looked at the fallen officers. One by one she turned them over until she found her man, Frank Johnston. His chest was a mess, as was hers, she realized. Grabbing him by the shoulders, she dragged him across the bits of meat, through the blood and over another dead officer. Outside, the rain pelted her and she loved every second of it. She dropped Frank’s arms and stepped back to watch. The rain slammed him; his uniform quickly soaked in the downpour. Like tears it ran off his face, down his neck to the ground under him. She watched for what seemed a long time as hunger gnawed at her insides, and damn it, she was hungry...very hungry. She stepped over Frank’s unmoving body and reentered the bar. Directly in front of her was the hairy meat. She couldn’t remember how it had gotten here, and she didn’t care. She was hungry. The police officer dropped onto her knees and scooped up a handful of bloodied flesh and jammed it into her mouth. She chewed vigorously, swallowed and wanted more. It tasted foul but it sated her hunger for the moment. The second she finished it, the bar door opened. She turned and saw Frank, her lover, her soon to be husband, standing in the doorway. He opened his mouth and only a strangled gag came

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forth. The female officer nodded and motioned him to feast with her. She smiled as he staggered forward, knowing he would soon be able to move as freely as her. He knelt down next to her and ran his hand across her badge, which read ‘Officer J. Osterman’. In a strangled voice, he managed to say, “Jen—na.” She smiled at him and nodded. Jenna brought her hand to his face; in it was a chunk of meat. Together they feasted. 3 In the were empty streets, Mark heard car engines and shouts coming from the direction of the mall. He stopped the bike around the corner from the city square, trying to figure out his next move. Ahead of him the bunch of shops had all lights off in the empty street. Behind him, Ball Enterprises rose high into the night sky, past the intersection. Lights burned in there on most floors. Opposite it were a clothing shop also alight and two wholesale markets. He and Simon visited them often; brand clothes with a small blemish and a damn good price. Someone walked up the street toward him. The person, who was walking slowly past Ball Enterprises, was too far for him to see clearly, but he figured it was a guy by the way he walked. He looked vaguely familiar, but Mark couldn’t place him. He didn’t want to meet up with him either. He could be another of the dead, or black-eyed people. The square sounded quiet. The walkway into the city

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square was just ahead of him. Five steps led up to the entrance. A flickering light came from there. Mark decided to check their place first and going through the square was the fastest way. No vehicles were allowed, but who the fuck was going to stop him? He checked on the guy behind him. The man was at the intersection, his head low, out of the light. Not good, Mark thought and revved the engine. The Iron Horse roared to be released. He obliged, kicked it into gear and released the clutch. He leaned left, kicked the gear into second and twisted the accelerator. The front wheel rose slightly as the bike climbed the five steps to the city square walkway that rounded the square, which was lower than ground level with ten steps going down into it. The area was a mess, not just the normal litter. A car down there was on fire, a burnt arm hung out the front driver window, tiny flames danced on the charcoaled skin. Even in this rain, it burned. At the other end of the square a large group of people milled around, some fought, while small clusters grouped on the streets. Beside him, the Cathedral, an old stone building imported from England a hundred or so years ago, had stained windows depicting images of Mother Mary and baby Jesus and a host of haloed and gowned angels. “Where the fuck are you in all this mess?” Mark asked angrily. He stared vehemently at the main glass above the double wooden doors with the effigy of Christ crucified, below it were the words, ‘For Our Sins’. “You’re not in control, are you?” Mark said, gunning

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the engine. He dropped the clutch, racing toward the steps leading back onto the main street, when a flicker of movement caught his eye. Mark braked hard, dropped his foot to the ground and in a skid. He slid the bike around and faced the direction he had just come from. The figure was running. It dashed down the stairs. Simon? Mark called out but got no response. He was sure it was Simon and called out a second time as the person ran down the steps. “Darian!” a voice boomed out. Henry? Mark gunned the engine and raced to his friend. Coming up to the start of the steps, he saw Simon and Henry gripped in fierce battle. Henry’s eyes were white—the light from them washed over Simon’s face and his eyes. Unchanged eyes. Backing up to get some speed, Mark raced forward and launched off the steps—Simon drove a knee into Henry, breaking the hold—the bike roared—Henry doubled over— Simon saw the bike and stepped back—Henry rose to his full height—the bike’s undercarriage slammed the side of Henry’s face, dropping him to the ground—Mark lost balance and the bike landed on the road at a sharp angle and flipped on its side and skidded to the opposite curb. Simon smiled. “Thank you, friend.” And resumed running. Mark watched him dash across the road as a car skidded sideways in the center of the intersection and the driver’s door opened. Three shots rang out. Simon dropped but

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quickly got to his feet and entered Ball Enterprises. The man in the car took chase. Mark winced, pushing himself free of the bike. He struggled to his feet. His entire body felt on fire and broken, stars flashed in his vision and his steps toward Henry were wobbly and unsteady. He looked down at the unmoving brother of his best friend. The left side of his face was red and bubbling; blisters formed where the hot undercarriage had struck. A sudden gasp startled him. Henry’s eyes opened. In a weak voice he said, “Help my brother, Echock.” His eyes closed as his chest rose and fell rapidly. Mark looked to the Ball Enterprises building. His head was a ball of pain, his mind a cloud of hazed confusion. Regardless, he stumbled in the direction, intending to help Simon. He reached the car and leaned against it to catch his breath and gather his bearings. His head throbbed. Mark rubbed his temples and his fingers came away covered him blood. The rain quickly washed it away. “Hey,” someone said. Mark turned. Debbie stood before him. Her eyes black as coal seemed to glow in the streetlights’ illumination. She smiled at him. Mark backed away. A sliver of light sparkled off the blade she held at her side. She jumped in his direction, thrusting the blade out. Mark side stepped her and swung an upper hook that dropped her to

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the ground. A gasp of pain escaped as her back arched up. The knife embedded in her stomach dropped free and she collapsed to the ground once again. A line of blood leaked from her side, almost black in the streetlights’ glow. Looking to the building he had seen his best friend enter, Mark realized that whoever he was, wasn’t Simon. His friend was gone and if he took chase maybe he, too, would be gone. Mark walked to his bike, his head lowered. He felt dry and empty inside. Never could he forgive himself for walking away as he was doing now, but he could see no other option. He picked up the Triumph and gunned it to life and rode away in the opposite direction of Ball Enterprises. He had no idea where he was going. He just rode as purple rain continued to fall.

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Chapter 41 Friday 2330 1 Darkness burst into the lobby of Ball Enterprises. His leg throbbed with burning fire torturing his muscles and slowing him more than the bullet in his side had earlier. Another one of Baxter’s bullets had found him. He headed to the steps, knowing the elevator was out. The door closed with a thump behind him. The silence was heavy in the stairway shaft. He looked up at the seemingly endless flights of vinyl covered concrete steps. Baxter was nearby. He could feel him closing in. Possibly taking precautions with his every step and that was good for him; Darkness needed every second he could get. Several steps up, he noticed his blood dripped from the wound in his leg to the floor. He knew there was nothing he could do to hide the trail. Once Baxter found it, he would zone in quickly. With every ounce of strength he had, Darkness fought the pain and pushed on. His goal was the top floor and his office. He still didn’t know why he was heading there. Perhaps it was to see Nina, one more time and ensure her and his baby’s safety. But he wasn’t certain. Whatever the reason was, it powered him on. It caused him to run up each step, his heart to beat wildly and the veins in his head to pulse rapidly.

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After what seemed like eternity, he reached the top and looked down at the descending flights of stairs. Baxter had not taken the steps. Was he stupid? No, he was anything but that. Then where was he? Darkness opened the door. A bullet punched the door, inches from his head. He dropped to the floor as a second bullet quickly followed the first. He looked around the door jamb and saw Baxter reloading a small .38, and fumbling with each bullet as he did so. Darkness leapt to his feet. His chance had come. With a primal rage borne hundreds of years ago, he charged his enemy. 2 Baxter slammed the chamber shut. He only had three slugs of death inside, but time was against him and his weapon was needed. Darkness screamed. It sent a chill down his spine; he had never heard such a tortured sound in all his life. He looked up as Darkness jumped at him, the scream still continuing. Baxter had no time to bring up the gun. The force of the strike drove him against the back wall, consequently knocking the gun from his hand. It fell near his feet. Darkness grabbed him by the neck, pulled him forward and slammed him a second time into the wall. Wind rushed from Baxter. His lungs choked, screaming for air. A head-butt sent stars exploding in Baxter’s eyes. Anger and fear rolled into one. Baxter replied in kind, knocking Darkness a step back. A fist flew into his jaw. Blood

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spewed from his mouth. Baxter spat out a small piece of tongue. He launched himself at his adversary. They crashed against the information desk. He drove his knee into the midsection dropping Darkness, and slammed his fingers into the leg wound. Darkness screamed, his head automatically came up. Baxter powered a fist straight into his nose. A current of blood rushed forth with the sound of cracking bone. Darkness went limp. Baxter stood up. White light washed his eyes and spewed across Darkness and the desk. “Get up, you bastard.” No reaction. Get him out of that form, Echock hissed. Baxter looked for his gun. It had been kicked to the far right of the rear wall. He went to it and squatted down next to the lovely cold steel. He picked up the gun and cocked the hammer. Baxter rose to his feet. Finally, he was going to end the reign that was Darkness. All the deaths were finally about to be paid for. Baxter couldn’t help but smile. Echock would do the rest, just as Echock had guided him to the other side of the building where the elevators there worked. All he had to do was hide and wait for Darkness to arrive. Bring his essence forth and I’ll do the rest, Echock promised, his voice soft and confident. Turning, he saw Darkness on his feet, facing him. Baxter was shocked to realize he’d turned his back on the most dangerous man he’d ever faced. And in his enemy’s hand was a large steel stapler, the kind made for joining a hundred sheets

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of paper with one punch. He had no time to react as the steel slid through the air. It struck the side of his head. The gun dropped from his numb fingers and the light from his eyes dimmed... 3 Darkness stared at Baxter. He now understood Echock’s plan. He had stayed Ethereal and joined the agent somehow. They were connected in a way he couldn’t fathom. Baxter dropped to his knees, eyes open and most of the light gone. The eyes stared at nothing, except perhaps the Abyss, which naturally stared back. Darkness had no idea. Was the agent dead? Almost dead? Or just...gone? Fuck it. He wasn’t staying here any longer. He had taken a huge gamble faking unconsciousness. He wasn’t going to take any more chances. Echock and Baxter had been overconfident; it wouldn’t happen a second time. He walked as naturally as possible to his office, trying to keep calm and relaxed for the benefit of Nina. Was she still in the closet? Yes. She would obey him forever. He was everything she needed in a man. He opened the door. The office looked empty. On the far wall he saw the same scene replaying his birth. Why was it there? What was its purpose? He knew his birth. It was nothing special apart from the star on his forearm that vanished. “Nina? It’s me.” From behind the closet door, she said, “Darian? Your voice is different.”

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“I am different.” The lock in the closet door clicked. “Stay there for now,” he said. “Agent Baxter is lurking at the information desk.” His eyes hadn’t moved from the scene playing on the wall. The longer he stared at it, he realized the size of the viewing port was shrinking. What was the importance of it? The question nagged him. The scene played the travel through the forest and he realized the scene played for him. He was the importance of its existence. Everything happened for a reason, his was revenge, the infection he’d spread without thinking about it was something else. Something he had no control over. How the scene of his birth came to play on the office wall no longer concerned him. This was a path to his new future; this was the path to his rebirth. He knew the future, he knew the past. Darkness could mold it to his advantage.

4 Wake up, damn you, Echock screamed in his head. Wake up. Baxter stared at a black corkscrew style hole reminding him of multiple loops of a roller coaster. He found it weird to be looking at it. It didn’t interest him at all. Twirling around and around into infinity, spinning faster and faster until it reached a point where it became one tiny pinpoint of black. Black. There was something about the blackness. No, not

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blackness. Black. Night. No light. Dark. A voice he recognized whispered to him through the haze of the spinning corkscrew roller coaster: Darian be near. We be finishing his evil doings. Be thee back, Baxter. You be an agent of the F.A.D. The voice was silent a moment, then, He killed Susan. Susan. Love. Hope. Promise. Dark. Darkness. Evil. Federation Against Darkness. “Echock?” he whispered, his words flooded into the corkscrew roller coaster. Aye. Turn from what ye be seeing. The roller coaster held a fascination for him. It locked its power on him; glued his sight to the blackness. The constant spinning was perfect beauty in perfect harmony. It be the Abyss. Turn away before it take ye. Baxter did as commanded, but it was hard, damn hard. Several times, he almost looked back. 5 Darkness watched his mother sweat and push. He watched the mid-wife tending between her legs.

6 Baxter’s vision washed free of all blackness. Behind him, the sound of the spinning roller coaster vanished. He hadn’t noticed it made a sound until now. Slowly the hallway and information desk came into

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view. The elevators opposite it and the door leading to the steps not far to the side of it. Be on thy feet, Echock demanded. 7 Darkness was mesmerized by his own birth. He watched his mother cuddle the baby... The door burst open. He stared in amazement as Baxter stumbled in and fired two shots that went wild. Without thinking, Darkness ran at the screen. It shrank rapidly as he approached. He jumped the instant a star glowed on the baby in the vision. The body of Simon hit the wall and dropped to the floor, lifeless. No essence of Darkness existed inside any longer. On the screen, the baby smiled. White light rushed from Baxter, flew toward the shrinking scene, which suddenly turned black, and the white light screamed into it. Into the blackness, the blackness with a spinning twisting roller coaster. Baxter fired twice into the vanishing hole. It was an automatic reaction, his last chance to stop Darkness. Suddenly, the wall was just a wall again. Baxter approached it. His hand reached forward and touched the place where the blackness had been seconds ago. The wall was solid. “Echock?� No reply. Echock was gone. He had been suckered into the Abyss.

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It had wanted him all along. It had no interest in Baxter. Both Echock and Darkness were gone. That’s all Baxter wanted to think about now. They were gone and no debts had been paid. He felt cheated. Baxter went to the large window. He leaned his weary and beaten body face forward against the glass. The streets below were empty. He saw his car sitting sideways in the intersection. Even from here he could make out the blood splattered on the dashboard top and the windscreen. His driver had somehow been turned to the side of Darkness. It was a fight that had taken the car into the side of a house, before Baxter finally got his gun free and blew the traitor’s head out across the window and dashboard. A body lay near the car as well, twitching. Lightning ripped from the sky and slammed into the car, igniting a broken fuel line. Fire wrapped around the car, flames leaping to the clouds above. He stared as the twitching figure rose off the ground and started walking toward the city square. Another jagged line of lightning ripped the sky above the woman. Fingers of electricity dropped from the cloud, struck shops, streetlights and seemed to dance across the road toward him. Baxter moved away from the window. If it was going to hit close to this building, he didn’t... Lightning exploded against the window, shattering it. Large and small shards of glass sped through the air. Tiny jagged daggers sliced his face. His foot hit something on the carpet and he tumbled backwards. Pain screamed as his head connected with the side of the desk. He dropped to the floor. Enormous pain brought the darkness of unconsciousness to

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him, surrounding his vision. A second before the blackness took him away, and his eyelids drifted shut, he witnessed a bolt of lightning dance across the shattered glass, stretch forward, and touch his shoe. He welcomed the abyss that wanted to swallow his soul. Here, there was no pain. At last he could rest.

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Chapter 42 Saturday 0630 1 Dawn light pulsed into the office. A gentle warm heat wrapped around Baxter as he slowly opened his eyes. Glass covered his chest and, looking down, he saw the burn mark of the lightning bolt. Baxter rolled slowly onto his stomach and pushed himself into a kneeling position. He inhaled sharply as a jolt of pain wracked his upper body. Remaining in that position, he waited a moment to adjust or accept the pain. Several moments passed before he reached up to the desk and used it to heave himself to his feet. In the blackness, he’d been dreaming. A beautiful dream. A wonderful fake reality. In it he was with Susan. They had a house, two kids and Baxter no longer worked at the agency; he was a factory worker and they were incredibly happy—he was happy—but something had brought him back to this reality. Something had stolen that warm feeling that only dreams could offer. Something had brought him back to this land of pain. He spun to face the wall where Echock and Darkness had entered a portal of two very different kinds. Portal. He had no other word for it. There wasn’t a clear view of where Darkness had gone but it looked like he had entered a baby child. But he saw the roller coaster fate awaiting Echock.

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Facing him now was the same wall as before. Unscathed. Baxter knew this much: he had lost. The Elders had lost. A shiver at the thought ran through Baxter’s spine and up to his neck. Darian had too much knowledge of the future awaiting him...but if he changed everything, Baxter knew he wouldn’t be here. The events that had transpired would never have happened, unless Darkness only changed something minor. He wasn’t a stupid man. Pain ripped through his brain. His hands automatically grabbed his head and squeezed trying to force the pain down. Cases he had worked on slowly vanished. In his mind’s eye he saw them running backwards...erasing. New memories replaced them, new cases, new crimes, mass murderers, serial rapists and a case named, ‘Cold Burning’. Each case unsolved, open. The character description was identical in each case. All the files pointed to one culprit, known only as Darian. Only now could he make the connection. The Federation Against Darkness did not exist. He realized this a moment before the memory was replaced with the Central Bureau agency. Formed by Dr. Hayden Taylor and government funded. Baxter was requested to lead a team of his choosing to track and hunt a man named Darian. The creator of Cold Burning. There was a rumor playing in his head of a cure that was being developed for the common cold. It was being developed in the building next to where he worked. He didn’t believe the rumors until he saw the purple rain last night, and knew Darian had planned the entire thing. Through all the changes, he remembered the day’s events. He remembered Susan, Whitfield, Dernaham, Shirley,

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and he recalled events leading to and ending with Echock. He turned to the wall and gently ran his fingers along the smooth surface. At his feet lay the guy he chased last night, a bullet wound in his leg. Leaning down, he checked for a pulse. Felt none. The body was cold. Something thumped the closet door behind him. Automatically, Baxter removed his .38 with a solitary bullet and slowly approached the door. “Is anyone there?” a soft female voice issued from inside. Baxter turned the knob. The door was locked. “Ma’am,” he said. “I’m Agent Tom Baxter with the C.B.” He waited a moment for the information to sink in. “I’m going to need you to unlock this door.” No response. “Ma’am?” He heard a lock click and the closet door opened a crack. A pair of sharp blue eyes peered out at him. “Are you really an agent?” Baxter holstered his weapon. “Yes, ma’am.” With everything he had seen and done recently, all he had lost, the violence, hate...pure darkness; her innocent eyes caught him off guard. Trying to gather his composure, he held out his hand to her. “It’s over now,” he said softly, as she gripped his hand firmly and he pulled her to her feet and out of the closet. “What were you doing in there?” “I used to work here. There was some trouble and I hid in here on Friday.” “Well, Friday’s gone now. It’s over. Everything should be fine again in a couple of days.”

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The woman nodded. “What’s your name?” Baxter asked. “Nina.” “Nina...” “Just Nina for now.” Baxter nodded. “Understandable,” he said. “Can you walk?” Nina nodded. Baxter looked around the room again. “Let’s get out of here. We can grab a bite to eat, and then if you feel up to it, the C.B Agency would like a statement.” Nina Shrugged. “Sure,” she said, without conviction. 2 Dust covered the streets, unnoticeable from the window high above, but here on ground zero, it was clearly visible and blew against Baxter’s shoes. Strange. The wind held a cold bite to it, sweeping through the streets. The shops and stores had smashed windows, his car was a burnt out shell in the middle of the intersection. Silence roamed supreme. Nothing, apart from the wind-driven dust, moved. They walked side by side through the city square. Even this early there was a lot activity from businessmen doing their thing and party-goers returning home from clubs and more. In the city square, they stared at a scene from a ghost town. Not even birds sung this morning. Everything was wrong with this, it was as if he had entered an alternate reality where humans no longer existed.

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Wiped from existence. The hairs on the back of Baxter’s neck prickled up. He felt eyes all over him. Nina must have felt it as well as she moved closer to him. Her hand gently bushed his. He turned a full three hundred and eighty degrees, but saw no one. Baxter pulled his hand away from hers and removed the .38. He opened the chamber and saw one bullet unspent. Shit. A quick search of his pockets produced no extra shells. Were he and Nina the only people left? At the end of the square, about half a block down, stood a bus that had been converted into a cafe. Baxter had been there a few times, the atmosphere was friendly and food good. Their coffee was the best. He longed for a cup now. Walking closer, his heart leapt with joy. People were inside. Sleepy heads leaned against windows and a couple of others slept on folded arms. He couldn’t see anything else from here, but his and Nina’s steps took them straight to the glass sliding door that stood wide open. Baxter entered first, instantly scanning for a free booth and found one near the rear of the converted bus. A few steps toward it, he froze. The view from the corner of his eye churned his stomach. On the table was a plate of uncooked long sausages, which he instantly knew to be intestines. A half eaten heart sat next to it, surrounded by a sauce of blood. It was the last thing he wanted to do, but had to; it was part of his job and human curiosity. Baxter turned to face the corpse. The sight knocked him backwards into the counter,

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bumping a blood splattered tray, with a knife, fork, spoon and half finished cup of coffee to the floor. The noise that followed rattled his ears. He stared at a body with a ripped open chest, most organs removed. Broken ribs sat at right angles. The lower part looked just as bad. The man’s penis looked as if it had been chewed on, chunks were missing here and there. A puddle of blood had pooled at his feet. Baxter tore his eyes free and stole a few quick and deep breaths, wondering why he hadn’t noticed the smell until now. The over coppery scent filled the cafe. The bodies weren’t fresh, either, adding to the aroma. Decay had set in, attacking the skin with darkened red blotches and discolored eyes stared straight ahead. Other customers leaning against the windows were in a similar shape, Baxter felt no need to investigate their conditions further. The blood and gore was everywhere. The cafe floor was smeared with life’s blood. He checked on Nina. Thankfully, she had remained outside. Judging by the paleness of her features, he figured she knew what he was looking at. Baxter stepped behind the counter where he found the waitress with a penis stuffed into her mouth. Her name tag read: Jess. Apart from the male reproductive tool in her mouth, she seem unharmed. He knelt down to inspect her body. There were no visible wounds and very little blood stained her white uniform. He rolled her onto her side to check her back. The head didn’t move. He couldn’t hold the bile any longer. His stomach

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bubbled. Bile shot forth splattering the waitress uniform and her head. He had no time to direct it somewhere more respectable. Baxter wiped his mouth on a tissue he found under the counter and stood up. Nina stood on the opposite side. Her eyes were as black as coal. She was smiling. “Still hungry?” she asked. Outside, he saw a crowd shuffling toward the diner. Their clothes were ripped and blood-stained. Each person looked in different stages of decay. Torn skin hung from hands and faces, necks and exposed chests. A groan emanated from the crowd, a soft grumble that somehow made its way into the cafe. At the back of the crowd stood a man, young in appearance, no older than thirty. Nina laughed, snatching his attention from the oncoming horde of the dead. And suddenly a single thought entered his head. A single word that clouded all others: Infection. Darkness was infecting others, but it hadn’t caused this. The battle between him and the Elders had not brought any of this on. He had been a part of that battle, white eyes, black eyes. He had chased and fought Darkness and seen him enter the portal. What he witnessed couldn’t be blamed on Darkness. He realized that with mounting fear and understanding. Baxter had seen the purple cloud expanding across the sky. He had stood in the purple rain and seen and felt the green lightning... And it had come from the second building next to his agency. The white-coated technicians, scientists and others he’d occasionally seen; the countless trips by Dr. Taylor to that

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building...it all made sense now. In their drive to defeat Cold Burning, they had killed everyone. And everyone still walked. Nina stopped laughing. Her black eyes bored into him. Baxter tensed, readying himself against her coming attack, but she didn’t charge him, she didn’t leap over the counter, instead, she turned and exited the cafe. The crowd of the dead was closer now, apart from the guy at the back, he stayed well clear. He watched Nina walk casually toward them and stop several feet away. The dead also stopped. “Rip her heart out,” Baxter mumbled. Nina stepped forward and the crowd parted for her. As she passed, they closed the gap and Baxter lost sight of her. The dead continued to the diner. Their slow shuffling agonizing to watch. Death moving forward to greet him. He watched amazed as more of the dead joined the crowd. Was the entire town like this? Was he the only one alive? He didn’t like the thought of that and remembered he had one bullet left in his .38. His eyes fell on the torn and gutted customers filling the booths. It looked to be a gruesome and painful way to go and he wouldn’t wish it on his worst enemy. And it appeared to be his destiny. He heard someone or something hit the rear door of the diner in the kitchen directly behind him. They thumped it hard. It was quickly followed by the sound of breaking glass. Unbelievable. They had sent others to the rear of the diner and he had never even considered it an exit point. “Too late, now,” he muttered and removed his .38 from

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the holster. One bullet, that’s all he needed. Baxter pressed the barrel under his chin. He stared at the on-coming dead. This was his only option. It was a shitty way to end. He tried to squeeze the trigger but his finger disobeyed him. Suicide was not part of his make-up. Baxter was a fighter, he never quit, and he couldn’t now. Even with a painful death on its way, he couldn’t give up. He fucking wouldn’t give up. He turned to face whoever was in the kitchen. He would go down throwing punches until the last of his breath passed his lips. The door to the kitchen swung open. The man standing there had a huge burn covering part of his face. Baxter recognized him immediately and raised his gun. His final bullet would come in useful. “Come with me if you want to live,” Henry said. Baxter cocked the .38. “You’re going to hell, Henry.” “Possibly. But my name is not Henry, it is Hern. I fear I am the last Elder.” He looked at the approaching dead and shook his head. “There are others with me. Join us.” He turned his attention back to Baxter. Their eyes locked. “If you want to live...” he said and left the rest of the sentence unfinished. He turned and exited through the swinging kitchen door. Baxter stared as it swung shut. The bus started rocking. He turned to see the crowd of the dead pushing the diner, trying to tip it over. Far behind them, he saw Nina and the guy standing arm in arm, watching the event take place. Hatred burned deep inside. Staring at them, he knew their time could come. He

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would face Darian again and put an end to his reign once and for all. But today was not that day. He turned and pushed through the swinging doors to the kitchen. At the end, the rear door stood open. Hern was waiting for him. He was smiling.

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Chapter 43 Saturday 0830 Outside Auckland International Airport The eighteen wheel truck pulled to the side of the road. The air brakes hissed as the driver pulled up the hand brake. He looked in the mirror and wiped black hair away from his black eyes. His attention turned to the woman sitting next to him. “One more time?” he asked hopefully. Beth, the K-Mart lady shook her head. “Sorry handsome, I have a plane to catch.” She reached over and rubbed his groin through the thick denim of his jeans. “I wish I could.” And she wasn’t lying. This trucker had taken her to a place her husband had failed all his life to achieve. Ecstasy. She had never experienced such a thrill as having this rough and tumble man deep, deep inside her. “I have a job to do, as do you.” She rubbed his beefy tattooed arms. He grabbed her by the neck and planted a heavy, lingering kiss. “I will fulfill my end,” he said once the kiss broke. Beth opened the door and jumped out. Auckland airport stood before her. She crossed the road and heard the blast from the truck. She turned and waved. Inside the terminal, she found her counter and booked in. She took a seat in the waiting room and realized she hadn’t washed or changed clothes for two days. Across the aisle, she found the duty-free stores and with

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her credit card in her hands; she shopped. In the bathroom, she washed as best she could and changed into her new red mini dress, white blouse and red jacket. A lady next to her said, “Non-stop travel, huh?” Beth nodded. She looked around the bathroom. It was empty apart for them...

Beth left with the other woman. The other woman wore sunglasses to hide her black eyes. They took a seat with a view of the plane being loaded. Outside a heavy purple cloud let loose a torrent of rain.

THE END February 21st 2005 — December 10th 2006. Accepted for publication 2010 Removed by author 2011 This revised and rewritten edition ©2012

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About the author

Lee Pletzers is a writer who is very active in the genre world, online and off. He has five novels published: Blood of the Wolf (2001), The Last Church (2009), The Game (2010), The Armageddon Shadow (2011. New version 2012),

RAGE (2012) and Resurrection Child,

(2012) via Dark Continents Publishing. He has over 70 short stories published online and in print and is also a member of AHWA (Australian Horror Writers Association), Fictioneers and a founding member SpecFicNZ. Lee has moved into the Indy scene and is publishing under his own banner: Triskaideka Books on Amazon and Smashwords. He still sends his books out to independent publishers, looking for that elusive million dollar cheque. How many here actually KNEW they wanted to be a writer from a young age? How many here, just kind of fell into it? I always knew and used to write knock-off Dirty Harry stories, where I was Dirty Harry and shot people for no reason at all, and they were often gory. Sometimes they


were read, often just a promise to read them when some free time showed itself. Then when I was 8, I saw a preview on TV for a Saturday night TV movie: The Omen. I was forbidden to watch this, my TV was even threatened by loss of the plug. If I even thought about watching this evil, demented movie that would drive me crazy, then the wrath of my Aunt -- more violent than the lake of fire filled with burning screaming souls -- would befall me. I watched it. I loved it. I watched the sequels. I read all 5 of the books (different to the movies). I discovered Hammer horror movies on Sunday Midnight theatre on TV (usually from 12 thru 2). My stories suddenly took a turn in direction. I kept the action and added something TV had taught me. Horror. When I was 10, a short vampire story got noticed at primary (elementary) school and was read in front of the class. Mr. Corunkarn told me how good it was for my age, and read it in front of class. I have not stopped writing since. I like to think that I was meant to write these weird stories in my head and they were meant to be horror. Why else would a horror movie preview grip the interest of an 8 year old boy?

http://kobefiction.we.bs http://tiny.cc/MyAmazonStore


The Armageddon Shadow  

Falling from his stead on his return to hell. The shadow known as Darkness enters our time. Told within 24 hours, a battle from the early ag...

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