Behind the Masks Part IV

Scene 23

    Prince Vlad was in a strange mood- even for him.  He was very pleased with the fact that Delia's children had been born safely and with no complications.  Four children to add to the growing First Pride.  He felt a pride in that as if they were his own blood-  they were at least family, being the scion of his wife and husbands from long before he crossed over to this side of death.  He still did not understand how, David could be descended from Ashleigh's lost son, but it was evidently true; blood does not lie.

    On the other hand he was not pleased by the other news his young protégées brought him.  His proxy in Atlanta was dead, killed by a vampire who'd decided to bypass all of the rules of challenge, and now threatening to upset the delicate balance of power between the nocturnals in that city.  Worse yet, he had violated the covenant to which all nocturnals agreed for the right of residing in the city: he'd fed off a child.  Not just any child, he'd chosen the ward of one of the city's transhuman defenders, a child who was a transhuman himself.   He threatened to bring a force down onto the collective heads of the  nocturnals  that would be devastating.  Moonwing and Challenger were bad enough, but Quantum could do things to all breeds of nocturnals that made even the dead blood in Vlad's veins run cold.

    That was why he had requested that one of his nocturnal advisors join him.  Sheriff James Daniel, JD to his friends, Williams was the Sheriff of the small county in Northwest Alabama where Trey Greenbough, the magecat and his wife Emory, the Sovereign Mage resided.  He was the leader of the werewolf pack that joined Greenbough on his mission of revenge across the verdant hills Vanaheim on the Night of the Howls, and he was the Werewolf King of North America.  Vlad did not summon JD Williams, he requested his presence.

    The two had exchanged pleasantries and were now sitting in the main offices for his chain of night clubs, the Forever Knight.  Hiding in plain sight could sometimes be the most delicious of ironies. Now they were engaged in the small talk of men who respected each other's power.  JD was a tall  man with jet black hair and blue eyes and a cunning mind.  He looked over his cup of coffee and asked, "What can I do for you Vlad?"

    Vlad smiled and asked, "Your oldest son, I am told that he his preparing to attend university at Georgia Tech.  Is this true?"

    Sighing the man nodded and his reply was a bit of a surprise to Vlad.  He said in a fatalistic tone, "Yeah."

    Vlad raised a questioning eyebrow at the tone and said, "I would think that a father would be proud that his son was attending university."

    Sheriff Williams nodded and said, "I am.  I just wish it were Alabama, or even Auburn."  He sighed and said as if giving in to a grudging point, "But he wants to be an nuclear engineer, and Georgia Tech is probably the best school for that."

    Vlad gave him a toothy grin and said, "Ah, I'd forgotten about the rivalries of the various universities in North America, especially those here in the South.  Florida is a bit more isolated from the rest of the region and doesn't quite engage in the same level of agitation as the rest of the region."

    Sheriff Williams grinned and said, "Tell that to Tim Teebow."

    "If I should meet the young man, I will," Vlad said with an ironic smile.  "But that is not why I asked you here.  I have a favor I wish to request of you and your oldest son.  He is of course your heir is he not?"

    JD smiled and nodded, "Yeah. So far my youngest hasn't shown an interest in pack politics."

    "I thought both your sons were true breeds," Vlad asked.

    JD chuckled and said, "Oh, they are.  But Hunter wants to be an anthropologist.  He wants to go to Romania and study the werewolves over there and find our relatives in the old country.  I keep telling him we came from Ireland, but he won't listen."

    "Your sons are true breeds, Sheriff Williams. That would suggest a very high likelihood that Ireland was only the most recent of your bloodline's immigrations.  He may be more right than you think," Vlad commented.  "However, I am interested in the one going to Atlanta.  I would request a favor of you and of him?"

    "Depends on what the favor is, Vlad," JD said.  "He's got his own mission there too- besides getting his degree."

    "Oh?" Vlad asked.

    "There's a vampire over there that crossed the line.  He fed off of one of the kids from the Wolf Creek Academy, a young transhuman feral that JJ is rather fond of.  He's gathering the rest of the pack that's going to Atlanta with him, and they plan on dragging the son of bitch out into the daylight, staking him, ripping his head off, setting it afire and roasting bratwurst on the flames."

    Vlad listened, it sounded like James Junior was already willing to carry out half the mission Vlad was about to request.  He could work this to his advantage.  "Would information on the vampire in question be useful to your son?"

    JD nodded, "We'll take whatever we can get.  Right now, it's everything we can do to keep Trey from going over and dealing with the issue himself."

    "That is part of Trey's commission.  Why would you not want him to deal with it?" Vlad asked.

    JD grinned and sipped his coffee, his blue eyes flashing with a dark humor.  "Because Lee Plainwalker is one of Trey's students, and right now his idea on how to deal with this involves driving all the residents of Atlanta out into the sunlight and burning the whole city to the ground.  I've only ever seen him this mad one other time in my life, and the things he did on that night still make my blood run cold."

    "What are they doing to protect the boy from being summoned by the one who fed off him?" Vlad asked.

    "Wynn has taken him to Alfheim to stay with his and Trey's parents.  He can summon all he wants, but the kid can't open the bridge, and if the vampire tries to go to him,  he's going to come face to face with a deity.  From what I've seen, Heimdall takes a very dim view of nocturnals who try to pass him without good reason," Sheriff Williams explained.  "We convinced Trey to let JJ and some of the others handle it. JJ's not taking a regular pack with him.  He's taking a rather unique band he's managed to pull around himself at the Academy."

    Vlad asked, "Do tell?"

    "There are three werewolves with him, but none of the others are true-breeds like him.  They're true, but not true-breeds. There's a werecat that's going along for what he calls shits and giggles, and a little witch that he's hooked up with.  To tell you the truth though, I wouldn't be surprised to get a call from JJ in a few years telling me that there's been an accident and the witch is now officially part of the pack."

    "We all take up with people of whom our parents disapprove when we're young.  It's part of growing up.  You would not believe the villains and lowlifes my brother surrounded himself with when he was young.  Of course he did not have much choice in the matter, but still they were not the kind of men with whom a nobleman nor a free man associates."

    "You sound like Trey," JD said.

    "I can think of far worse people to whom to be compared," Vlad replied with a smile.

    JD laughed and said, "I can agree with that.  Now what can you tell me about this vampire?"

    Vlad nodded and became serious as he gave the Sheriff the information that Noah had drug from the captured vampire's mind.  "His name is Todeshaus, Viscount Andre Todeshaus.  He was a minor nobleman in Austria in the middle of the nineteenth century.  He is a rather unusual damned.  He is definitely a day walker, so Commander Greenbough's strategy may not work.  He had a particular taste for the blood of children and the company of other men's wives, if you understand my meaning.  The first was for food and the other was for far more diabolical pleasure.  It was rumored that he actually managed to father children from this side of the grave.   We thought he'd been destroyed by the husband of the mother of his offspring, but we were evidently mistaken.  He has taken up residence in the city that says it is too busy to hate."

    "Any particular weaknesses?" Sheriff Williams asked.

    "Like all damned, he is vulnerable to holy items wielded by one with a true faith.  He is from the Line of Nod, so he's vulnerable to wooden stakes but they won't kill him.  Like all nocturnals, he fears fire."

    "Some of your kind can take a wolf's form," Sheriff William commented.  "What about him?"

    "Not a wolf," Vlad told him.  "He's been known to shift into that of a large predatory cat, a black leopard."

    JD snorted, "Just what JJ needs, a vampire who thinks he's a werecat."

    "Sheriff Williams, I am married to a vampire who's other form is that of a large cat.  It is not that unusual of a situation.  Those of us who have shifting powers, sometimes have a wide variety of forms.  I know of one in your own area who's other form is that of a peregrine falcon.  He can cover huge amounts of territory in a short time, and has as a servant a large Siberian tiger."

    Sheriff Williams nodded and said, "I know who you are talking about.  He's one county over.  Now what is it that I or my son can do for you?"

    Vlad smiled again and said, "The city cannot survive without at least a proxy.  I am sending one to the city.  I know that it will not be long before your son becomes a force with which to be reckoned in Atlanta.  I would like his backing for my proxy.  It will go a long way to keep the city from degenerating into a power struggle.  If that were to happen,  then I would have to step in with a much heavier hand than I would prefer."

    "I'm not sure, Vlad.  A great deal of it would depend on what kind of man, or woman he or she is.  I know that he'll give them a fair chance, and I know he's not looking for the job himself."

    "I think that he'll find Brett Dallas to be fair handed man, and the kind of chancellor that will keep the city safe for humans, nocturnals, and even transhumans.

    "I'll leave that up to him," Sheriff Williams said.  "But JJ will definitely help deal with vampire himself."

    "That at least is a start, Sheriff," Vlad said with a smile.  It wasn't what he hoped for, but it was the best he could get.  Dallas would have to prove himself to be a leader worth respecting before it would be given blindly, and Vlad knew that was as it should be.

    The two men continued to talk for a while longer, their choice of subject matters ranging from the weather, to nocturnal politics.  It was well after midnight when Janos, his right-hand servant interrupted them.

    "Please excuse the interruption, Prince," Janos said in a thick accent.  "But there is a petitioner here to see you."

    "A petitioner that you consider important enough to disturb my meeting, Janos?" Vlad asked teasing the old Rom.  "Who is he?"

    "My Prince, he comes with your step-son Michael at his side.  It is Michael who wishes you to meet him.  He says it concerns...," Janos hesitated in his explanation, obviously uncomfortable the the choice of words the petitioner had used, "...the kitties."

    Vlad knew that the only people that Michael referred to by that name was the First Pride.  He looked over to JD and said, "If you will excuse me, Sheriff Williams. This is something to which I must attend."

    Sheriff Williams smiled back at him and said, "Of course.  Wanda is waiting on me.  She says she wants to go shopping tomorrow before we head back back."  He grinned ruefully and added, "I'm not sure Miami is ready for Wanda's commando approach to shopping."

Scene 24

    The attack had come out of nowhere.   He'd been coming home from school when the road in front of his motorcycle had exploded into concrete and hot asphalt shrapnel.  He gunned the engine and lifted the front tire, "popping a wheelie" as he launched the bike over the hole in the ground.  

    Landing, he sat down, applied the brake and skidded into a stop as he looked around.  "Ah, crap," Kevin said to himself as he saw the armored form of Hardcase taking aim at him again.  

    He reached up with his gloved hand and touched the spot under his jaw and said through clenched teeth, "Champion Armor Battlemode One!"  He felt the incoming energy surge around him, and could hear the armor plating begin to shift into place.  Tesla energy fields charged Bucky-tube molecules, and nanites reconfigured the weaponry and functions of the armor as the motorcycle under him was absorbed into the exoskeleton. As the lightning field around him died, his orientation changed to slightly higher than before.  After all, he’d just more than quintupled his previous mass.

    He looked up to see where two missiles were streaking from Hardcase's shoulder packs.  He charged the field lifters in his armor and began to accelerate into the sky to join her as the armor pushed against the Earth's magnetic field.  It was a little trick he'd picked up talking to Cyberstar of the Lords of Atlantis.  The missiles streaked under him and impacted into the road below blasting a new crater into it.

    Steadying himself, he keyed the heads up display and brought the tactical computer online as Hardcase seemed to simply hover there studying him as he rose to meet her.   Finally, he hit the radio, something he should have done before now, and something Jake would take him to task for when they analyzed this tape later.  That is if there was a later.  "Champion to Homebase," he said calmly as he armor's scanners began to track Hardcase.

    "Champion, this is homebase,' Jake's voice came in clear over the receiver.  "What's your situation?"

    "I'm hovering over Iron Mountain Road facing off with Hardcase," he tried to sound calm at the situation, but finding it somewhat difficult.  This was a woman who'd made it clear that she wanted to kill him and strip his armor of its secrets.

    "The hell you are!" he said.  In the background, he could hear the base's emergency recall signal begin to sound.  It wouldn't be long before the rest of Murphy's Law was out here. but it could be long enough for her to do what she came to do.  They were several hundred miles away in the California Islands looking for this very terrorist.  She'd set him up, lured Murphy's Law away from him and left him to face her alone.

    A light blinked on his HUD- he had an incoming signal.  He keyed the radio to receive it as he stretched out and he Hardcase began to circle each other.   The speaker flared to life, "You should have stayed dead, Murphy," she was saying.  "But, I'm glad you're back. Now we get to find out which of us is the better scientist.  I spent ten years working at MIT, and got no recognition.  All I kept hearing about was this white kid from Georgia who was doing fantastic things without a degree, without paying his dues.  Now we're going to find out which is better, raw talent, or hard work."

    He hit his sensor suite and scanned the area.  From the east, he detected a single form closing on the ground at close to Mach one.  From the south, over the city there was a large aerial gunship closing with him too. It looked like a huge armored clothes iron with an array of jets melded to its aft hull.  The readings suggested that it was of a very advanced design.  "Jake, looks like I'm being out-manned and out-gunned," he spoke into his mic trying not to sound nervous."

    "I've got the rest of the team on the radio, but they're engaged and can't spare anybody, Bro.  Hundreds of civilian lives are at stake," Jake said.  Kevin could hear the worry in his voice.

    Kevin's head's up display began to blink as another new target began to rise over the city to the South, this one's readings were much smaller.  He felt something slam into the armor, and suddenly the readings on the heat sinks started to rise, as the gunship's pulse cannon expended itself against his force fields.  "Better pay attention," he whispered to himself.  Looking over to his scanners, he saw the gunship was charging its weapons again as Hardcase was closing to grapple with him.  

    He rocketed up and over grabbing her by the stabilizing wings on th back of her armor and twisting around to put her between and him and the gunship fire.  He could feel the thud of the particle pulse cannon as it slammed into her chest.  He also noted that his heat sinks were not responding the way they should.  He suspected that the programming parameters would have to be adjusted.

   In the distance he saw a blazing form slam through the gunship and it rocked heavily onto its side and started losing altitude, but righted itself as the the form came around for another pass.  The ship was now changing its focus from Kevin to the newcomer.  

    As he let Hardcase go and she spiraled down toward the ground, he zoomed in on the form attacking the gunship and realized it was Dragonphyre. He was flying fast, his arms out to the side and his phyre-field blazing like a halo of flames forming a lifting plane around him.  Kevin realized that he didn't recognize the other hero because he wasn't wearing his own dragon armor.  

    Looking down to see Hardcase gain control of her fall and begin to level out Kevin sighed as his radio sqawked.  "What in the hell are you doing Kevin?" Jake ranted.  "Why did you let her go?  She's out to kill you!"   

    "I'm not going to escalate the fight, Jake," he told his partner.  

    "Kevin, I'm not some disembodied head who's going to take away your powers if you take the fight to the next level," Jake's voice was angry.  "Proportional response is a form of suicide!  That's something I learned in command school.  Now get out there and kick her butt, so the rest of the team can do it's job of putting what's left of California back together."  That was harsh.  Jake was implying that Kevin's situation with Hardcase, which was no fault of his own, was distracting the team from their primary mission of dealing with the catastrophe of California being sunk beneath the Pacific.  Jake really had changed a great deal since Kevin had died, and Kevin wasn't sure he liked all of those changes.

    He spun around to see Sister Slice stopping to look up at her leader.  Kevin wasn't too worried about the speedster villain- after all if she couldn't reach him, she couldn't hurt him. "Okay, you want me to escalate the fight," Kevin said grimly.  "I will."  Spinning around he brought the mini-cyclotrons online and sighted the rising armored form, targeting the stabilizer wings. 

    "Hey Hardcase!" he yelled over the suit's loudspeakers.  

    He saw the head of the other armor look up and he fired.  Hydrogen atoms were stripped of their electron shells and hurled out of the barrel of the disruptors at nearly a quarter the speed of light.  They blasted a hole clean through the armored panels of the aerodynamic structures and she started to struggle to stay in the air, but managed to reply with a second volley of missiles.  This time, his heads up display showed that they were using a radar lock.

    "You wanna' play, Hardcase?" He called over the mic.  "See if you can keep up."  He accelerated straight up, watching the missiles begin to close with him.  It wasn't long before he'd shattered the sound barrier as he pulled ahead of the missiles.   He watched as they fought to keep up and then began to fall away.   When he was sure he was beyond radar lock, he turned and fired the pulse cannons at them.  There was no use in letting them fall back to earth where they might get a lock on a civilian aircraft.  

    In the distance he could see Hardcase streaking up toward him, the aerodynamic wings on her suit now discarded.  She was using sheer rocket power to accelerate.  "You run well, Murphy.  But how well do you fight?" her voice came over the radio.  "Bet you cry when you get your nose busted," she said.

    "I don't know what got your panties in a bunch about me Hardcase, but I'm starting to get sick of it.  You're creating more problems than you're worth," he radioed back as she closed within grappling distance, the blades on the forearms of her armor deployed.  He let her close and dodged at the last minute.  

    It wasn't fast enough and he felt the impact of the blow across his shoulder as  they slammed into him at eight miles a second.  Kevin looked down and realized that they both had reached escape velocity as his display winked in and out before stabilizing.  Combat at this speed and altitude had just turned deadly.  

    He turned and and poured power into his lifters, noting that the higher altitude was at lease cooling his heat sinks faster.  He could get off a few more blasts from his pulse cannons this way.  

    The two suits of armor continued to climb high in the atmosphere, heading for space.  Hardcase's backpack was spitting out fire and smoke like an old Saturn V rocket, and Kevin wondered where she was getting the fuel for that kind of a climb as he closed with her.  He reached out toward the maneuvering vanes on her ankles as he slowly closed the gap between them.  Suddenly the sky went black and in the instant that his hand closed on the winglet, it detached itself from her leg and blew up in his face.

    The force of the blast scrambled his readouts and he heard a small hiss somewhere in his suit and something seared against his arm.  A light began to blink on his image on the HUD.  The suit had ruptured in on the back of his upper arm.  The suit's autodoc was dealing with the damage in his arm and it's autorepair systems were already closing the leak.   

    In the meantime though, Hardcase had switched over to maneuvering jets and was closing with him once again.  Panels on the right shoulder of her suit were opening up, and he saw another micro-missile launch itself toward him.   As it did, she began to spin out of control.  "Hardcase, for someone who claims to be so smart, you just forgot Newton's  Third Law," he radioed back to her as the missiles began to sputter just a few yards in front of her.  Evidently, she also forgot that that rockets need oxygen to fire in space.  This was obviously not a planned extra-atmospheric excursion.

    He watched as the rocket's engine died, and then drift lazily toward him. Fortunately, for him, the Earth's magnetic field reached this far into space so he was able to push against it to maneuver, but he had to be careful.  Too far out and he'd lose the ability to maneuver too.  He watched as she began to fall back toward the Earth and the rocket began to tumble out of control.  His sensors told him that the warhead was armed and was on a proximity fuse.  

    He pushed himself down lower, out of its proximity fuse's  kill radius and tried to figure out what to do.   He could follow Hardcase, and leave the rocket to float on by, but it could become a danger to upper atmospheric travel, and if it fell to earth, it could blow up on impact, hurting someone.  If he destroyed it this high, it would just be that much more debris that Space Command would have to keep up with when they launched other things into orbit.  And there's no telling what they think about me and Hardcase being up here.  

    He quickly began recalibrating his own presser ray.  With a little luck he could pull it out of orbit and detonate it somewhere above normal airline travel and out over the ocean.  

     "Kevin?" Jake's voice asked nervously over the mic right when he was about to capture the rocket.

    "Yeah, Jake,he sent back tersely.

    "Where the hell are you?" Jake's perpetually worried voice asked.

    "I'm currently about two hundred kilometers up in what is essentially, Low Earth Orbit.  Hardcase has discovered that her armor will not function that well up here, and has retreated, albeit clumsily back to Earth,"  Kevin told him.

    "You let her get away?!" he demanded.

    "I am currently dealing with a live missile with an armed proximity fuse.  I could theoretically drift dangerously close to satellites, space stations, and or even space shuttle missions,"  was Kevin's reply.  

    After a moment of silence, Jake replied, "I'm sorry.  You're right.  You have to think about the safety of others first."

    "I'm so glad you approve, Commander Lee," Kevin told him and immediately regretted throwing Jake's former rank in his face.  Jake was just looking out for his best interests, but still the comment about this situation with Hardcase had hurt.

    There was a long silence on the radio as Kevin slowly drug the missile low enough into the atmosphere where he was sure it would begin to fall.  When it did, he fired his pulse cannon at it and watched it explode and then rain down below.  He hit is his mic and said, "Champion base, this is Champion, I'm returning home."  Then closing down the radio, he touched a control and said bitterly, "Champion Armor Battlemode Five."

    The thinly spread high temperature molecules of the upper thermosphere suddenly lit up for kilometers around him as their energy was converted into matter.  The suit around him reconfigured itself into a long sleek red and blue aircraft.  When the transformation was complete, Kevin engaged the magnetic drive and headed back toward the base.

Scene 25 

    Winter Atlyn first princess of the House of At,  felt the incursion into her rooms long before she saw it.  She knew they were protected against gifted, magical, technological, and psionic teleportation- that just left temporal, and temporal meant one thing: Another time lord.

    As the air around Merlin solidified, she noticed that he was much younger in this time than when she knew him three thousand centuries in the past.  But that was of course the effect of the curse that lay upon him- he aged backwards.   As the finished materializing and shed the bits and pieces of otherspace that clung to him like cobwebs, she smiled. 

    "What have you been doing, girl?!" he demanded.

    With the most innocent of expressions, she said, "Well, let's see I visited the main city yesterday with Mother to purchase things for the nursery.   I had my nails done this morning, Old Teacher."

    "You know what I mean," he growled and came toward her fists clenched.  "A temporal field just dropped around one of Alpha Centauri's planets; a field that had time lord written all over it; a field that had your signature all over it."

    "So?" Winter raised an eyebrow.  

    "What did you do?" he demanded.

    She put down the e-pad and stylus she was holding, genuinely sorry to have her reading time interrupted.  Noah Hale was an excellent writer, and she could not wait to find out in what mischief Tior Tinderflint found himself .   She crossed her hands primly in her lap and said, "I only helped a couple of wayward children find sanctuary. That is what we're supposed to do isn't it?"

    "What wayward children?" he demanded.

    "Kalleth's children," she said.

    "Kalleth never had any children!" Merlin spit out.

    Winter smiled and said, "Do sit down Old Teacher.  I long ago ceased to be frightened or impressed by your ranting and raving at the top of your voice.  And if you continue to make loud demands, the guards outside are very likely to come bursting in and start blasting away, and that of course would alert my fathers, and my mother, and they still have unfinished business with you."

    "I am not afraid of your fathers," Merlin told her, but she could see the hint of fear in his eyes.  "I am a time a lord."

    "And one of my father is immune to all of your magics, but you are not immune to the raw power that runs through his muscles."  She told him.  "I believe the last time you left him, he was seeing how many of your bones he could break."

    "You are a terrible disappointment to me, Winter," Merlin said sitting down opposite her.  "Of all my students, you have the greatest power, yet you refuse to play by the rules."

    "I play by the rules you taught me, Old Teacher," she said.  "Do not try to hide by the rules now.  It was your involvement with the Kheltians and with Shadu that have brought us to where we are.  You helped them try to summon their Dark Gods back to Earth, you gave them weapons to fight Kierra Atlan's children."  Winter smiled and added, "And everything you've done since then has been to hide your complicity, the fact that you broke the rules.  I'm simply setting right what you destroyed, it's just a personal bonus that setting it right preserves my family."

    "The Thulian Empire must not be allowed to exist!" he demanded.

    "You mean my family must not be allowed to survive," Winter countered.  "Tell me, which beating my father gave you is it that is the impetus for this hatred of all things At?  Is it the one where you gave him the the technology to preserve his house and holdings in exchange for allowing me to become a time lord; or is it the one that he is going to give you when he finds out that you made a deal with the Kheltians to open up the defenses of Earth, Meirria, and Thule to an invasion?"

    "This is not about conflicts between myself and that overgrown oaf you call father," Merlin said.  "It's about insuring that this blasted race of genetic freaks don't start their great quest in ten thousand years.  Those secrets are not meant for mortals."

    "My father is not a mortal, and the great quest is an attempt for all immortals in the Empire to find out exactly what that means.   Why is it you don't want them to seek the answer to that quest?  It is no different than the quest you sent a bunch unwashed barbarians on in order to keep them busy while manipulated several bloodlines in the Britain.  Did you really think you were going to keep my mother from being born by aiming a randy young knight at the queen?  No, you just made a mess of a lot of people's lives." 

    A look of slow dawning came over Merlin's eyes. "Exactly how much do you know?"

    She smiled at him and said, "All of it."

    "Why Winter?  Why are you doing this?  Why are you working against me?  I was your teacher, your friend?  Doesn't what we shared mean anything to you?" he asked.

    "I was fourteen, you stupid old gimp. You didn't take a lover, you forced yourself on a fourteen year old girl as some kind of spiteful revenge on her father," Winter told him.  "Since then you've done everything you could do to see to the fall of all things Atlantean.  Well, I'm an Atlantean, bred and born into the only Atlantean house to survive on Earth.  Did you really think you could destroy my family and hide it from me; that I would think it was only the natural course of history?"

    Merlin went to get up but she pinned him back down to the sofa with the force of her will alone.  She stood and towered over him. She'd been waiting three hundred thousand years to have this out with him.  "You thought me a naive child.  You thought you would take your pleasure from me and then twist the knife into my father at the same time.  But that night, after you'd gone to your own bed, after I'd cleaned myself up, I knew who my real enemy was Merlin, and it was you.  Each and every time you came to my bed, each and every time you forced yourself on me, I took a few more of your secrets.  I found out about how you whispered in the Emperor's ear, encouraging him to make that alliance marriage with the Hesperians, knowing full well the princess was a Kheltian agent.  I discovered how you set up Kalleth and his brother Marhawk to be killed, and to drag the Mideanites into the war.  Luckily, both of them were far wiser than you, and had their own temporal powers. Every move you've made to destroy the House of Atlan, I've countered, all they way up to stepping outside of this reality."

    "What have you done?" he asked suddenly very worried.

    "I have protected my family, Merlin.  The family you stole me away from on the eve of the war.  Look into your mind, Merlin.  Look at what I made you give my father in exchange for the time lords training me.  Look at the memory I erased.  You poor stupid old man.  You were so worried about any gifts I may have inherited from my father that you ignored those of my other four parents.   It was easy to influence you and then make you forget.   You are not quite so great a sorcerer as you think."

    "You know we're not supposed to use our powers on each other!" he protested.  "I'll take this to the others!"

    "You do that old man.  You do that, and I'll show them what you did to me.  You know how they feel about relationships between teacher and student.  I'll show them where you bargained away the Temporal Crystal in an attempt to hide what you did to the Atlanteans.  You do that, and I'll make sure that you never even exist," she said.  "Remember, we're coming up on your birth in a few thousand years.   I can make sure your mother doesn't survive that shuttle accident, or maybe that your father is never born." 

    "The Thulian Empire will upset the balance of power in the future, Winter.  We cannot let it dominate," he said.

    "Why not?  Because it will keep your little reptilian friends from taking over, from summoning their dark Dragon Gods?   Or maybe because they will find the answer to their great quest at a point in history when the time lords no longer hold sway?  What is it about that quest that worries you, Merlin?  Is it the fact that you know that you will not survive the end of the universe, and that they dare to find a way?"  She smiled and twisted the knife in him some more.  "There are many universes Merlin, and there are forces outside even the omniverse."

    "I am aware of that Winter, and I have my own contacts among them.  Perhaps I should go to the Kregar and let them deal with this little upstart House that you want to see become a galactic power.  I wonder how your father would fare against the likes of the Council of Umbra."

    She spun on him and glared her eyes looking him up and down coldly.  The same arrogance that she knew three thouasand centuries ago, was just now starting to grow.  It was time to bring him down a notch or two., "Go ahead old man.  But before you do, look closely at the  the various other realities.  Look at those closest to this one.  What you see may surprise you.   You may find that I'm already looking back at you.  Look deep into otherspace, look at what is being built there.  You bring the Kregar here, and you will not survive it, I promise you that." 

    "I can change your past," he threatened.

    "Don't go there," she told him.  "I can change yours too.  That's the problem with your aging backwards.  You know the future because you remember it, but I know your future because I remember it too. But unlike  you, I can travel anywhere along the line of my existence.  I already know what revenge you are going to take on me.  I've already lived it.  I'm giving you an opportunity to end the conflict now. Leave my family alone, Merlin.  You know the others don't like it when we strike at each other this way, and you've got much more to lose than I do."

    "This is not over, Winter," he said rising from his chair. This time she allowed him to rise and pace.  She could sense the turmoil building in his mind.  She could sense that she was starting to get to him.  She smiled at that thought.  

    "I know, Old Teacher.  I know," she said.  "But we either agree to keep this little fight among us, or we take it outside the omniverse.  Before you do that though, I think you should go and talk to your Kregar friends.  Find out what has happened to their leader; find out what my friends did to him.  You may not like what you see.  You may not even be able to get them to consider coming here.  They are very afraid of me and my friends right now."

    "What have you done, Winter?" he demanded again.

    "Only what needed to be done to keep as many realities as possible safe from the Kregar; only what you and the others were unwilling to do, or were afraid to do," she told him.  "I believe your old lover, Morgaine referred to me as an upstart, who didn't know her limitations.  I know a little more of them now, and can live with what I know."

    "You are rather young at this," he said.  "But that's neither here nor there, what are  you going to do about Alpha Centauri?" he asked.

    "Nothing," she told him.  "My job there is completed.  They are under the Dark Mother's protection now.  You can take it up with her if you like, but I wouldn't suggest it.  She's not happy with what you tried to do with her sons."

    "You dare bring a primal into this?" he asked.  There were few beings in the universe that disturbed the time lords like those they referred to as primals- the first creations of any deity. They carried with them immense power that was only slowly filtered through the generations into something normal, something mortal.  The Dark Mother was one such being, and now that she knew the truth about Merlin he would approach her at his own peril.

    "I didn't bring her in.  I simply helped her preserve her grandchildren.  Children are very  special to me now, Merlin, any woman's children," she told him bitterly,thinking of the horrible-tasting draughts she was forced take over the centuries of her studies with him.  "There are forces at work here you do not understand.  If I were you I would stay away from the Alpha Cent system for a very long time."   She smiled and then added, "On second thought, why don' t you go there and investigate yourself.  I'm sure the King and Queen would love to see you."
    He chose that moment to flee her taunting words, flinging himself back into the void that was otherspace.   Slowly she felt the strength that her emotions brought her begin to fade.  The sadness, the pain, and the bitterness came back to her.  She looked down at the novel in which she'd lost herself earlier and blinked through the tears.   Shaking her head, she returned to her own bedchambers and simply lay down crying at the pain of old wounds reopened. 

Scene 26

    Jett Storm was stunned at the news.  His mother, a fifty-one year old retired admiral was getting married- he didn't even know she was seeing anyone- and on top of that, she was  pregnant!  Damn, somebody was moving awful fast.   Evan on the other hand was taking the news way too calmly for Jett's tastes.  "You could at least be a little more surprised by it!" he protested.

    "Why?" Evan asked.  "Your mother is a very attractive woman, and these days having a baby at her age isn't unheard of."

    "She'll be seventy-two when he or she's twenty!" Jett protested as he stalked around the kitchen of their midtown apartment in Atlanta.  

    Evan perched himself up onto the counter and  smiled at his lover.  "What's really bothering you Jett?" he asked softly.

    "The fact that I didn't know my mom was even seeing anyone," Jett said.  "We've been so damn busy, first with the Transhuman War, then with the dragons, and now this.  I haven't been home to see her in three years."

    "What?  You expected her life to be suspended in crystal while you were gone so that when you went back to visit, nothing changed?" Evan asked.  "Come on, Jett, you know better than that.  You lived with your dad until he died, you knew your mom's life went on when you weren't there."  Then he stopped as if realizing something.  "This isn't about your mom at all, is it?"

    "I don't know what you mean," the tall raven-haired young man answered with his back still to Evan as he poured himself a cup of coffee.

    Evan slipped down from the counter and took the cup from Jett's hand and replaced it with the one he'd poured not three minutes ago.  "This is about your dad.   This is about you finally realizing that's he's really gone, that he isn't still living in San Francisco- not that San Francisco is still even there- that he hasn't gone back to space, but that he's dead and is not eventually going to remarry your mom."

    Jett turned and stared at him, the pain evident in his cerulean eyes. He shrugged and said, "Do you think so?"  

    "Look Jett, I've known you since we were sixteen.  When you came to live with your mom, you were broken.  You'd just come out of that coma, and weren't talking to a whole lot of people.  I know you saw your dad die alongside all those other people when that virus got released.  I know you never talked to me or anybody else about it.  I respect that.  But don't let that color your relationship with your mom."

    "It's not that," Jett seemed to struggle with his words.  "I don't even know this guy.  All I know is that he's from a prominent East Coast family, and that he and mom have been seeing each other for about two years now."

    "Right after we left for Washington," Evan suggested.

    Jett nodded, "Right after we left for Washington.  Why did she wait until now to tell me she was serious about someone?"

    "You have your life, and she has hers," Evan offered.

    "Evan, we're all either one of us have left.  My grandparents on mom's side are dead and she doesn't have any brothers and sisters."

    Evan grinned, "And it's not likely that either one of us are going to get pregnant."

    "Exactly.  I'm wondering if she's doing this to have a legacy, to have someone to carry on the name.  She says she's keeping her own last name."

    "What, she's going back to her maiden name?"

    Jett shook his head, and said, "No. She's keeping Dad's name."

    "Oh boy," Evan said.  "That must have caused a row."

    Jett shook his head and said, "I know. I don't understand it either.  She says that he's cool with it though.  But there was something in her voice," Jett told Evan.  "Something that suggested that there was more to it than that."

    "Why don't we go down and visit?" Evan said.

    Jett shook his head and said, "No.  Dustin and Seth need us here with everything that's going on with these vampire attacks.  My power as Quantum is just a little too effective against them."

    Evan nodded and asked, "Yeah, I guess the ability to generate sunlight is pretty useful against them.  As for your mom, when's the wedding?"

    Jett grinned and said, "June, when else?"

    "You know, we could always go to Massachusetts," Evan offered.

    "This is coming from the man who told me that the didn't need a piece of paper," Jett countered with a smile.  "No.  I'll wait until you really want to get married and not just doing it to cheer me up."

    "It's not that I don't want to get married, Jett.  You know that.  It's that you're half Meirrian, and I'm well, according to Meirrian law, I'm property.  I just don't want to hurt any chances for advancement you might have with your father's people."

    "That's a dumb reason," Jett said with a smile.  "I'm not going to go off looking for my family in the Empire.  They abandoned my father here because the university he worked for ran out of money.  They didn't even send a ship to pick him up.   Why should I go looking for people like that?"

    "To kick their collective asses?," Evan countered.
    "There is that.  But right now the Empire is in turmoil anyway- at least according to Panda.  Evidently some of what's been going on here has had repercussions all the way to the Imperial Senate.  They're talking about all kinds of changes."

    "Exactly where do you get your information?" Evan asked.

    Jett smiled at him and said, "The new Meirrian ambassador to Thule is evidently my cousin."

    "So you are looking for your family," Evan teased.  

    "No, she came looking for me," Jett said.  "We had a long talk about you and about Storm Avionics."

    "Me?" Evan asked worriedly.  The mixed up mess that brought him into being; the pirate attack on the cruise ship, the crash landing, the mixing of his genes with those in the human graveyard was the kind of situation that could result in the same thing happening to him that happened to Sun Dancer- and he didn't have the advantage of being a Gem Corpsman. They'd just kill him.

    "Yeah, you," Jett said.  "Evidently the Corps and the Senate came to an understanding about enforcing genetic purity laws.  As far as the Meirrians are concerned, they are to keep their hands off you."

    Evan smiled and said, "I don't want every Meirrian to keep their hands off me."  He stepped closer until his body was pressed up against Jett.  He kissed him soundly, with the passion of six years of being together.  He knew how to press each and every one of Jett's button and he was going to start at the top and work his way down.

Scene 27

     "What are they fighting about?" Kym asked Leif as the two manhandled the huge headboard out of the back of the truck.  Although it weighed nearly half a ton, the man and boy moved it rather easily. The problem wasn't the weight, it was that it was bulky, it was dense, and once it got moving, it could damage the interior walls, floors and just about anything else in the old Victorian Mansion.   

    "Evidently, Jake made a comment about how having to watch out for him was taking resources from the team's ability to help with reconstruction of the California Islands.  Kevin took it personally," Leif said.  Leif didn't say exactly how personally, the young boy had taken it.   The two were about to take the verbal knives to each other when Aerin stepped in.  That of course left Leif shorthanded when it came to moving their stuff out of storage and into the new house they'd just bought up around Indian Springs.  It would be so much easier if with Aerin here.  He could unload the truck, and then she could grow and slide the furniture and boxes into the upper windows like a giant doll house.  Now he and Kym were stuck lugging it up all those stairs.  Again, it wasn't the weight, it was the number of trips.

    "You think she can get them to talking?" Kym asked.

    "Sure.  Aerin will get the bottom of it, and before long they'll be painting each other's tonsils again," Leif said.

    "Man, that's rather Earthy way to put it," Kym complained.

    Leif shrugged and said, "I'm a child of Freyja, we're an Earthy bunch." He grinned at Kym and said, "Besides, I was under the impression that you were't above getting your tonsils painted either."

    The young blond blushed deep red and shrugged, "So far the only two people I've been interested in doing that with are either married or dead."  Leif could have kicked himself for making that comment.  The last thing he needed to do was send Kym back into the funk out of which he'd only recently began to drag himself.  

    "Sorry, man," Leif said.  

    Kym actually smiled at him, and it genuinely seemed to reach his eyes, "It's okay, Leif.  I'm just biding my time."  Then he looked around the mansion and asked, "I would have been willing to be a thousand bucks that there weren't any buildings like this in Nevada."

    "First off, you don't have a thousand bucks, and second off, you probably would have won.  We had this one moved," Leif told him as the set the huge headboard on the porch and walked back down into the midday sun.

    "Had it moved, or Corbin moved it?" Kym asked.

    "What do you think?" Leif asked him with a smile.

    He watched at the young dragonborn seemed to throw his golden eyes out of focus for a moment  and look around.  As Kym scanned the house, the various out-buildings and the high stone and wrought-iron fence that had been erected around the hundred acres of property the afternoon sun made the freckles across his face deepen to a burnt orange.  "Based on the amount of residual magic I see, I would say that some major-league warding has been done on the house, the gates, and the property in general. I can see Corbin's touch all over the house, your's on the fence, and Lorna's on the property itself.  Corbin moved this place with a considerable amount of magic."

   Leif nodded and said with a smile, "Built and moved. Thought you were a warrior, not a mage," Leif said.

    Kym chuckled and replied, his Southern accent suddenly becoming very pronounced, "I couldn't cast a spell with a rod and reel, but there are two basic powers possessed by all dragonborn; the first is phyrespeak, and the second is phyresight.  Magic and some transhuman and psionic abilities look to me like just another variation on the phyre.  I can see them quite clearly."

    Leif smiled at him and then looked back into the truck. The headboard had been the last piece.  Now everything was at least unloaded. Once they got it upstairs, all that would be left to do is unpack and then put everything away.   He liked the idea of having a place of their own again that was not part of Murphy's Law.  There were still things to do, and he knew some of what lay ahead was not for mortal perceptions.  He sighed and said, "Help me get this thing into the front bedroom, and I'll grab us something to drink and show you the garden.  You'll love it."

    Five minutes later, they were stepping out onto the back patio.  Leif watched the slight shiver run through Kym's body as they crossed the barrier between worlds.   That barrier, and the effect it held on the property inside the fence had been a gift from Aerin's mother.  It brought a little piece of of the High Yard onto this world and concealed it from the eyes of men.  Beyond the half acre of formal garden and swimming pool was another two acres of wild garden, and beyond that was fifty acres of wild primordial Nordic forest.  Anyone looking at it from beyond the fence would see only similar terrain as surrounded the property- desert scrub that was being reclaimed by the moist air now moving in off the bay.  Even flying over it would give it an appearance of being much the same.  But inside the walls, was a cool rich Nordic forest with cool mountain streams and ash and elm pine and cedar trees.

    "This is magnificent!" Kym exclaimed.  "It's like nothing I've ever seen before!"  Leif enjoyed watching the boy's face light up.  He'd been walking around like a rainy afternoon for months and this was a good start to seeing him put his life back together. 

    "I'm glad you like it.  Here" Leif said handing him a small key.  "It fits the back gate, come and go as much as you want.  Just remember to shut the gate.  We don't want the cats to get out."

    "Cats?" he asked. 

    Leif smiled and nodded, "Cats," he said.  Then with a low meowing sound that could not have been made by a human throat, he called out over the yard.  In a matter of seconds two golden furred cats came flying in on matching bird-like wings, the female obviously pregnant. 

    "My god!" Kym said.  "Where did these come from?"

    Leif laughed and said, "They were a birthday gift from Lorna.  She got the idea from a children's book.  The birds in the area are out of their minds."

    "I'll bet," Kym said.

    The two cats began winding their way between his and then Kym's ankles.  "They like you."

    Kym looked up at him and smiled again.  "Can I pet them?"

    "They'd be offended if you did'n't."

    He watched as the young warrior squatted down in the lengthening afternoon shadows and gently petted the rather unusual felines.  Leif watched his motions, and was not surprised at the gentleness of his touch.  Of all people, warriors were the most keenly aware of the fragility of life, and in many ways were much more respectful of it.    Leif reached behind him and handed the the blonde the Mountain Dew that was sitting on the steps.  "Here."

    Kym took it with a quick, "Thanks," and then resumed petting the felines as Leif sat down on the steps and sipped his own soft drink.  Although he beer he had in he fridge would not affect him, he still preferred not to deal with a breathalizer if he was driving the truck.

    "What are their names?" Kym asked.

    "The female is Treegold, and the male is Beegold.  I got their names from a book.  A certain writer.  She suggested the names for the cats who pull my mother's chariot."

    "It must be strange growing up with a Goddess for a mother," he said.

    "You have no idea.  And you have no idea the kind of pressure that put on me in school." Then he stopped and thought about it.  "On second thought, of all people maybe you do."  Then quickly changing the subject before they drifted too close to memories of  Ridivari, he asked casually, "How've you been coping with Adam and Steve?" 

    "Fine, I guess," the boy said.  "They like to play like a couple of crotchety scientists with their heads in beaker, but they're really a couple of all-right guys."

    "Next year is your freshman year.  You decided if you're gonna play any sports or not?" Leif asked casually.

    "Can't," he said.  "One mistake on the field or diamond, or court, and people will be taking too close a look to see if I'm a transhuman."

    Leif nodded his head and asked, "I'd suggest furball, but there're rules about fliers and furball.  It's just too much of a hassle to try to keep up with what's inbounds and outta' bounds."

    "Yeah, and then I'd have to register," he said.

    "There is that.  You could cheer," Leif offered. "I know they're letting those kids in Florida cheer."

    Kym gave him a long, you gotta be kidding look.  With a smile he said, "Look there are a few stereotypes I'd like to avoid. The gay cheerleader is one of them."

    Leif grinned big and said, "I guess marching band is out too then."  Both young men laughed heartily at that.  "How about track?  I mean you could stick to the sprints where endurance is less of a factor."

    "That may work," Kym said.  "Why are you so interested in my having an extra-curricular activity?"

    Leif grinned and said, "Because if you don't find something to occupy your time, then you're going to go crazy.  Trust me, I've been there and I've done that."

    "What do you mean?" he asked sitting cross-legged on the flagstones as Treegold climbed into his lap to be petted.

    "Right after someone very close to me was murdered, I sort of went into a deep depression.  Actually, it was pretty intense and it took Lorna and Corbin knocking me down and jumping my bones to bring me out of it.  Later when we were sent to Wolfcreek, I met up with a pack of werewolves and they introduced me to the controlled violence that is shifter furball."

    "Shifter furball?" Kym asked.  "There's another kind?"

    Leif smiled and said, "Yeah.  And you can blame that one on Trey Greenbough too.  His grandfather introduced it to Alfheim about twenty or so years ago after watching Trey and some of his friends play it.  He said it was a way to channel the aggression of some of the rowdier boys on the steadings.  I think he just wanted something new to gamble on.  Alfs love to gamble."  He gulped down his own soda and stood.  "Well, we'd better get the truck back, and I need to get you home."  He reached into his jeans and pulled out two bills, "Here's what I said I'd pay you for helping me."

    Kym smiled and stuffed the bills into his pocket.  "Thanks."

    "You know, I've got an idea.  "I'm planning a trip home in a few weeks.  Why don't you come along.  We could grab a couple of my friends, and go deer hunting up in the mountains east of my Mother's Hall," he tried to sound casual.   Leif knew just the thing to get the young dragonborn warrior's mind off his troubles.  He also knew a couple of alf lads about his age who would be panting after Kym on sight.  Besides, Kym carried with him his own tales to tell around the meadhall.

Scene 28

    "Do you really think I'm a drain on the team?" Kevin demanded of Jake from across the table in the apartment Murphy had  set up adjacent to hers and Ethan's. They still shared a kitchen and a family room, but for the most part it gave both young men a modicum of privacy.  They'd been having this argument with Aerin trying to mediate for almost two hours and it was getting nowhere.  Kevin would not seem to listen to reason and refused to use his powers to see that Jake was telling the truth.  It almost seemed that Kevin was trying to push Jake away.

    "That's not what I said, Kevin and you know it. I said that the situation with Hardcase was a distraction, not a drain," Jake shot back. "There's a distinct difference between the two."

    Kevin retorted angrily, "Semantics, they mean the same."

    "No they don't, Kevin, and if you took your time to think about it, you'd see what I mean.  Hell, if you'd just use your power, you'd see what I mean," Jake said beginning to tire of this argument.  He wasn't sure exactly what set it off, however something told him that it went deeper than just a random comment.  Something else was going on in the young genius' mind.

    "Kevin?" Aerin interrupted softly.  "Nobody on this team thinks you're a drain.  An occasional distraction, but in a good way, but not a drain by any stretch of the imagination."  She winked over at Jake. "You want to tell us what's really going on?"

    He looked up at her and asked, "Or what, you'll just read my mind?"

    She smiled at him, shook her head, and said, "No, I won't do that.  Why are you acting so angry?"

    Jake caught the word acting.  He was starting to get an idea.  He watched as Kev sat down heavily in the chair and sighed.  "I just don't seem to fit in.  I'm way out of date, and sometimes I have to struggle to figure out what's going on around me.  I look at Jake, and I see the same person I always loved, but there are times when he's not."

    "We all change Kevin," Jake said, his heart hearting at Kevin's words.   "I grew up, but I never stopped loving you.  There was never anyone else but you."

    Jake watched as the Kevin thought about what he said.  He smiled over and asked, "But don't you see.  I can't live up to that kind of devotion.  You gave up a whole lifetime to come back to me Jake, how can I match that kind of gesture when I can't keep my own thoughts from straying."

    Suddenly it hit Jake.  "Is that what's this is about?  You having impure thoughts about other people?"  Jake couldn't believe that for someone so smart, something so simple had escaped Kevin.

    The blond began to blush furiously and hung his head in shame.  Jake looked over at Aerin who smiled as Kevin replied, "You gave up everything for me, and I can't keep from watching Leif's butt.  I'm afraid I might not be worth what you gave up."

    It all cut back to the old problem- the one Jake had thought Kevin had put behind him: self-esteem.  Jake sat down next to him and said, "It's okay that you look, Kev.  First of all, you're a teenage boy.  You're hormones are raging like an inferno through your blood-stream.  There are times when you'd get a spike in your shorts over corned-beef- and trust me, there's a lot more to Leif Hunter than corned-beef.  I've looked too. That doesn't mean I love you any less, that I'm devoted to you any less.  It simply means I'm male and I react to visual stimulation."  

    Kevin looked up at him in surprise and said, "Really?"

    "Oh yeah, really.  The difference between love and lust is that love tempers the lust.  Yes, I can appreciate a handsome young man's physical attributes, but just because I appreciate them, that I note them, or even react to them, doesn't mean I have to act on them.  It's part of being human.  Reacting to them means you're becoming sexually mature.  Not acting on that reaction is the first step from being sexually mature to becoming a man.  Like the sperm donor; he was sexually mature, but he's never been a man."

    Kevin laughed at the backhanded reference to the Kev's biological father.  "I hadn't thought of it that way."

    "You haven't had much of a chance to think about any of this.  You're right. You're out of touch, out of time, but you'll catch up.  Maybe, no definitely, I could have chosen my words better.  But next time you get mad at me about something, do me a favor.  Ask me about it first.  Don't just react and get angry."  He pulled Kevin into a hug and mouthed a silent "thanks" to Aerin over Kev's shoulder.

    She smiled, nodded and slipped out of the room.  It took a few seconds before Kevin began to return the hug.  Soon though, Jake felt the blond return the gesture with a fierce strength.  "I'm sorry.  I guess, I'm just having to adjust to everything,"  Kevin mumbled into his shoulder.

    "It's okay," Jake told him pulling back.  "We're going to have spats, that's an unfortunate fact of relationships.  But we can't wall ourselves off to the point that it takes a Goddess to get us to talk, Kevin."

    Kevin nodded and said, "I was acting a little bit childish wasn't I?"

    Jake smiled and said, "Just a little bit.  But you're entitled."

    Kevin then pulled Jake into a gentle kiss and he felt Kev's body melt against his.  "You know, I hate it when we fight," Kevin said.  "But the making up is always fun."

    Jake nodded and began to let his hands roam across the Kevin's tight runner's body.  Each time he held Kevin like this, each time he touched him, he was forced to almost pinch himself to make sure he wasn't in a dream.  After Kevin died those long years ago, he'd simply buried himself; first in school work, and then in his Naval career, becoming the youngest man to ever make captain in the US Navy.  But when Kevin came back, when  Corbin did whatever it was he did to bring him back from the dead, Jake continually wondered if he was just in some kind of elaborate wish-fulfillment dream.

    Lost in his own thoughts of awe and wonder, he felt Kev break the kiss and begin to undress him.  Fingers that were so deft, so sure of themselves in the lab, or with a wrench fumbled with the buttons on Jake's polo shirt.  Jake took them in both hands and kissed them smiling.  "You go lock the door and I'll meet you in the bedroom."

    Kevin nodded eagerly and bounced off toward the door to their section of the quarters while Jake headed toward the bedroom they shared, dropping first his shirt and then his slacks in a line of clothing that led from the main living area to the bed.  By the time Kevin was back from the door leading to the rest of the aparment, he was shucking his briefs- he was still a brief's man, never could get used to the boxers that Kev prefered- and was crawling onto the bed, his manhood already half erect.

    Kevin wasn't far behind, his blue-green eyes gleaming with desire.  Kevin already had a light dusting of amber curls across his well-toned chest.  His abs were bare except for a small passion trail that led from his navel to the mass of curls surrounding the thickest dick, Jake could imagine.  Kevin wasn't that much longer than Jake's own six and half inches, but his thickness was huge in comparison, almost two inches across.  Jake found his mouth watering at the sight of the hard cut cock.

    Kevin crawled into bed and stretched out top of Jake, trying to bring as much full-body contact as possible.   He devoured Jake's mouth, his tongue probing for entrance.  Jake opened his mouth and began dueling Kev's tongue with his own as their bodies ground together, their now fully hard dicks rubbing tight against each other, held in place the weight of Kevin's body.  He roamed his hands along the blond's muscular back, and widened his legs and locked his ankles around the back of Kev's calves.  

    Jake let Kevin set the pace. For now he was content to lie there and simply enjoy the simple pleasure of being able to touch the great treasure he'd lost so may years ago.  He loved the feeling of his fingers running up and down the strong back of the blond, his hands cupping the hard muscle of his butt, kept in shape by morning runs.   He loved feeling his pelvis grinding against Kevin's as their cocks spread pre-cum all over their stomachs.  He loved just touching Kevin.

    Kevin finally pulled back from the kiss, taking in breath in hard pants brought on by passion and desire.   He started kissing down the sides of Jake's neck sending little thrills of pleasure all through is body.  He lifted his hips and backed off from the grinding so that he could kiss across the broad expanse of Jake's much larger chest and nibble at the hard nipples.  The tingle went to a surge, as he blindly reached for the deep drawer of the nightstand, pulling it  open and finding the top to the pump bottle there.  With a quick and practiced action he filled his hand with the slick liquid and the reached for Kev's massive cock.

    He spread the slick cool gel along the mass of Kevin's manhood and returned for more as his lover continued to nibble and lick along his pecs.  He gripped the pillar of flesh tightly and worked th gel in deep, covering every inch as he arched his hips up.  Kevin realized what he was doing and smiled down at him.  "You sure?"

    "I'm ready and sure," Jake said as he positioned the tip of Kevin's cock at the entrance to his ass.  

    Kevin smiled, kissed him, and eased the massive width of his dick into Jake.  At first there was some pressure, and maybe a little discomfort, then as the head slipped past the tight ring. a smooth feeling of fullness as he slid in all the way with a single slow stroke.  Jake grunted in pleasure, reveling in the feeling as Kevin was balls deep inside him.

    He reached up and pulled Kevin's face down to his, and kissed him heartily as the smaller boy began with long luxurious strokes in and out of his body.  Kevin pulled back and smiled down at him, kissing him on the tip of his nose.   Jake simply watched his lover's face as he they moved against each other.  To Jake this was the ultimate expression of brotherhood; the sharing of their bodies in a a concert of pleasure that was not about who was doing what to the other, but what was being shared.  This was what it meant to be in love.

    Jake reached around and grabbed a double handful of Kev's butt and began push his hips up to meet  the blond's thrusts.  Kev for his part reached over and pumped his hand full of lube and then began to stroke Jake's dick between them.  His hand felt slick and warm against the flesh of his cock, and it felt good.   Kevin set the tempo of his strokes on Jake's dick to match those of his thrusts into his ass.   It wasn't long before Jake felt a familiar pressure in his balls.  He pushed his own hips straight up, pulling Kev's hand down tight against the base of his dick and grunted loudly. The first spurt caught him across the nose and lips.  The second on his chin, the third and fourth on the chest and then a final dribble on his abs.

    The contractions of of his ass must have set Kevin off, because he made one final powerful thrust deep inside him and leaned forward trembling.  When he opened his eyes, he looked down at Jake's cum-covered face and licked it off.  "Good?" Jake asked.

    Kevin rolled off him, and Jake felt a sudden emptiness as Kev's huge cock vacated his ass.  He smiled and said, "Wonderful."

    They lay like that for a very long time, just holding on tight to each other.  

   Scene 29

        Off the coast of Puerto Rico, Mariner tracked the great submarine as it prowled the waters between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It was one of the new experimental designs, but it already carried a full armament of nuclear capable guided missiles.  That of course was the bonus to Mariner's plan.   

    Not all of the transhumans employed by the UN during the recent Transhuman War had been captured; not all of them were even on the "official payroll".  Mariner fit into both of categories. He was a highly trained independent agent, who kept a villa in Morocco where he would occasionally get a "mission" from various sources.  Some of them were UN, others were- let's say freelance.

    He was already starting to gain a reputation as a freelance operative and had taken a few jobs contracted through the international cartel, Richelieu Factor.  However, this mission was going to mean that Richelieu Factor would never touch him again. It violated one of their most stringent rules.  Since the mid nineties, Richelieu Factor operatives did not take assignments against children.

    Neither the UN, nor Mariner had any such compunctions.  But not being able to work through the Factor was something that was going to be expensive for him, and was something his present employer was paying a very handsome price for.   They wanted to send an important message to the Shan and to Illia.  What better way to do that was to kill the only child of the First Pod?

    Mariner grinned as the great vessel glided through the Caribbean waters, two hundred fifty meters below the surface.  The water here just north of Puerto Rico was very deep.  This would be a good opportunity to more than make up for what he was going to lose for the taking this job.  That sub and its missiles would bring him a nice price on the market- after he killed the crew of course.   Schooling far below the submarine awaiting his signal were the creatures he'd recently managed to hammer into a cohesive fighting force- a species of highly intelligent sharks that were larger, more aggressive, than the bull sharks they resembled.  More importantly, they seemed to have the ability to shift their bodies into several configurations, including a bi-pedal air-breathing form.   They were going to make this particular job most interesting.

    The first thing he had to do was get Depth Charge's and Coral's attention.  And he knew exactly how to do that.  He'd played very close attention to Depth Charge's father's battle with the Chinese submarine that attacked them when the Shan first crashed into the Gulf of Mexico.  The same tactics would be useful in taking the sub.   He swam toward the aft of the submarine and looked down at the two sets of huge screws that where churning water behind them.  

    It took almost no time to set the charges on the cowling.  Then staying close to the hull of the vessel, he set four more on the ballast tanks.  When he finished he drifted backwards into the wake of the sub and hid in its turbulance.   He watched and waited until he was out of the blast zone and the sub was right where he wanted it, and then touched the correct sequence of buttons on his pad.  

    The flashes of light reached him only a fraction of a second before the sound and pressure.  Like a wounded whale, the great ship rocked to the side and then began to sink to the bottom of he ocean.  He watched as it settled onto the edge of the Milwaukee Deep. He'd put her down, right where he wanted, and when Depth Charge and Coral came to rescue her, then he and his new friends would be waiting.