Scene 30

     "Exactly what do you have in mind?" Emerald Stone asked the others gathered around the table.  She had been surprised when Wayne had asked her to come to this meeting to represent Syntech.  Even confined to a wheelchair as he was now, he usually handled the day to day business of the company.  But this was a little different.   Those gathered here represented a huge economic and political force in the world. This was the kind of gathering that would give the present administration nightmares.
    They were all currently sitting in the Royal Palace on Thule as a gentle late spring snow was falling all around the island country.   Present were Lord William one of the Thulian Emperors- she still wasn't sure how four men and one woman could make up the emperor, but the system seemed to work for them- Defender Jord'n from the First Pod of Illia, Agatha Storm representing Storm Avionics, Doctor Adam Stevens was speaking for the M-7 corporation, and Seth Plainwalker also known as Moonwind formerly of Paraforce 1 and now a member of the Atlanta Knights.  Lord William cleared his throat and said, "We want to begin a program that will eventually lead to the exodus from Earth all transhumans, psis, Atlanteans, Shan, and nocturnals, and will scour from the planet any traces of the Atlantean Gifted Gene and the AGG virus."

    She felt her eyes narrow as she stared at him.  "What do you mean scour from the planet?  That has a ring of unpleasant finality?" she asked levelly.

    William shook his head and said, "No, not what you think.   As you know the gene is now activated by a virus.  We wish to modify that virus so that it will act in reverse, removing the gene from those who are exposed to it, and leaving them unharmed perfectly normal baselines."

    "This is the kind of thing that can get out of hand very easily," Storm said.  "That virus almost killed my son.  I don't want to take a chance on losing him again, or making any other mother face that kind of horror."

    "We have someone working on it who will make sure that it does not get out of hand." Jord'n said.

    "Who?" Emerald demanded.

    Jord'n and William exchanged glances and finally William sighed and said, "Let's just way we have divine help."

    Emerald leaned back in her chair and said, "The Wrought."  She shook her head, and continued, "I'm not stupid, and Syntech will have no part in anything that might turn into bio-warfare, or heaven forbid genocide."

    "That's not what we are trying to do," William said.  He sighed and continued, "The Transhuman War was just the first round of a series of conflicts that are going to continue to build.  Our computer models, and our prescients all agree, we're building toward a cultural war of unimaginable proportions.  The presence of this many transhumans is creating evolution pressures on humanity that are going to lead to their destruction, and possibly ours as well if we stay here.  If we leave, and leave the gene here, then pressure will be alleviated for a while, but within two or three hundred years at the most, it will build up yet again.  By that time, humanity will be in position to do what Sslelkians did to Earth before the Shan left.  It could take another hundred million years to recover, or maybe never."

    "What do you propose?" Emerald.  She'd had similar discussions with her father about this subject.  It bothered a great deal that his conclusions were similar to what she was hearing here.  The only difference is that these people had a plan of action to do something about it- she hoped.

    "First off, even with the advanced technology represented by the individuals in this room  the simple logistics of getting this many people safely off planet and to an area where we won't be discovered for a long time makes that plan out of the question," Jord'n said.  "Even if we could do it, it would cause a panic in the human governments.  What we want to do is begin a hidden project. When we leave we're taking everything that is ours with us- the technology, the people, and the wealth.  When K'horal left, it was only him and Defender Jariss'a, and the rest of the colony's inhabitants were simply embryos.  This time if our projections are correct, we're going to be moving close to two million people. That can't be done with even a fleet of starships. We need another way."

    "And that's where M-7, Syntech, and Storm Avionics come into the picture?" Doctor Stevens asked, his blue eyes gleaming.  

    "Exactly," William replied.  "We want you to work with us, to develop less than a fleet of ships, but instead help us perfect the fold technology that we'll need to move people, cargo, buildings...,"

    "... and a planet," a tall blond man entered the room wearing gold and blue armor and coronet on his head.  Something about the man looked familiar, and then she realized that he was Kenneth Tyde the DNA operative that went missing along with his partner several years ago.  It was the six fingers on each of his hands that gave him away.

    "A planet?" Emerald asked.  
    "It can be done," William said standing and offering his hand to the young man.  "It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Your Majesty.  I knew your father."  He turned to the others and said, "This is King TydeSteele of Kentaurus."

    Emerald noticed the slight look of surprise on the king's face.  "Thank you, Your Majesty."

    William smiled and said, "I propose we set aside the titles for now.  I'm afraid they may become cumbersome and confusing."

    The king nodded and said, "You' are probably right.  It's just Kenneth."  Then smiling he added, "Or Ken, if you prefer."

    "You want us to move a planet?" Doctor Stevens asked incredulously.

    Ken looked at him, smiled and said, "If it's not too much of a bother."

    Emerald watched as Stevens and Plainwalker exchanged glances.  Something seemed to pass between the two scientists as they both made some calculations on a pad. Finally, Plainwalker looked up and asked, "When do you want it done by?"

    "We estimate that we will be ready for the final flight in about a hundred and fifty years.  We'll need Kentaurus moved in about seventy-five."

    "Moved to where?" Emerald asked.

    "We don't know yet," Jord'n said.  "We have someone looking for correct spot right now.  We gave him our list of criteria and he agreed.  We need somewhere far enough away that it'll be a long time before the humans stumble on us. That's why we need Kentaurus moved.  Alpha Centauri is just a little too close for our plans."

    "Why not move the Kentaurans too?" Emerald asked.

    "Because our population is over three hundred million, Mrs. Pruitt," the King said.  "If we started now, we'd have to move four million people a year.  Moving the planet is actually the better alternative.  Besides, we have resources that we too can make available now that we are ready to open relations with the Thulians."

    "You realize that the UN is going to have kittens, when it's announced that you are opening relations with another extraterrestrial civilization without them," Plainwalker said.

    "That's just one more reason to leave,"  William said.  "The UN still has not given up on its plans to bring the whole world under its control, and that is not something we can allow.  We've seen how they treated the transhumans in their Riyadh facility, and we see how they treat their replicant soldiers.  It is a top down organization where the people serve the government, not the government serving the people."

    Emerald raised an eyebrow and said, "With all due respect, the idea of those words coming from a man who wears the crown of an empire rings something of a sour note."

    William smiled and said, "You have to understand how the empire is constructed Mrs. Pruitt.  When it comes to matters of natural rights, my power is far more limited than the President of the United States, or even Congress.  The first and most basic right that all Atlanteans share, be they noble, citizen, or subject is the right to be left the hell alone."

    Emerald nodded.  She really did not understand how the Atlantean civilization was structured, so she would have to take the man's word for it.  The others in the room seem to accept his supposition as fact so she left it alone.  "What do you need Syntech to do?" she finally asked.

Scene 31

    James Daniel Williams Junior, or JJ to his friends looked around the apartment and found it to be surprisingly to his liking.   JJ was a tall serious young man with jet black hair and ice blue eyes.  He was somewhat thin in build but there was a intensity in his eyes that few baselines could meet comfortably.  As he wandered through the apartment, feeling very satisfied with the layout and the set up, he heard Wade looking through the other rooms. 

    He had no idea that his dad had any contacts in Atlanta, and was completely surprised at the deal the owner of the building was willing to offer JJ and his pack.  Of course the word pack really didn't apply to them.  It was more of a gathering of close friends who had a common goal and mission.  Four werewolves, a witch and a werecat, a pack did not make.

    Their most immediate of missions was to deal with the vampire who'd attacked Lee Plainwalker.  Yeah, Lee was much younger than the rest of them, but that was why they were here to deal with it; he was still a kid, and it was their job to look out for the kids.   The second mission was to scout around the city to get ready for next year when they'd all be attending Georgia Tech for their freshman years.

    JJ really had no desire to be at odds with his father, but somehow found himself in that situation.  Wade was the main cause for his and his father's disagreement.  He was everything that Sheriff Williams could respect, but at the same time, everything that he felt wasn't good for the pack.  It was a real bitch growing up as the heir apparent to the werewolf king of North America. 

     Wade wasn't pack, and it looked like he and JJ were getting serious.   As far as JD Williams was concerned, he could deal with his best friend, Trey Greenbough being promiscuously bi, but the idea of his own son sucking dick was something he was having trouble getting used to.  Add into the situation, the fact that Wade was not another shifter, but a mage and he was that much more uncomfortable.  Then there was Wade's religion, he was Wiccan.  All of those things, JD probably could eventually get past.  Most of the problem came from the situation with Wade's leg.

    The young witch had his right leg shattered in a severe beating from a stepfather when he was around six.  The damage had never healed properly, giving him something of a limp .  It was clear that JD thought that Wade would be a drain a pack in an emergency situation.   JJ felt that that his dad just didn't know Wade well enough.  From out on the patio the young witch called, "There's a pool!" 

    "You just want a chance to wear that bathing suit you bought at the mall the other day," he teased his lover.

    "Well, duh," Wade said.  "I didn't buy it to stick in my sock drawer and gather dust."  

    JJ smiled at that.  Wade was pretty to look at and he knew it.  "Yeah, but we've got other reasons to be here right now," JJ told him.

    Wade stopped and gave him a cold look and said, "I haven't forgotten that, JJ.  I want the bastard as bad as you do, maybe more.  But I can at least appreciate the moment.  For a wolf, sometimes you focus too much on the future, and not enough on the present.  Right now, we're looking at an apartment. Tonight we go hunting."

    JJ stopped and thought.  Maybe he was letting his disagreement with his dad color his own thoughts.  "Sorry. I guess that was uncalled for."

    "No, it wasn't uncalled for, it was just inaccurate," Wade told him.  "We've got good information on this Todeshaus guy, but we can't do anything about it until tonight.  Right now, we're putting things into place for this fall.  We focus on that now, and hunting tonight."

    JJ nodded and looked around again.  "I can live with this, how about you?"

    He nodded and said, "I can more than live with it.  Are you sure about the rent thing?"

    JJ nodded and said, "As long as we're willing to take care of the place, do some garden work around the grounds and keep the residents from getting too rowdy, then that's what we pay a month."

    "JJ, this place is worth ten times that much.  This isn't THE posh neighborhood of Atlanta, but it's up there.  And it's local to everything we need."
    "Except the university. That's across town," he said.

    "There's a main MARTA stop less than a five minute walk from here.  I can handle that," Wade said.

    "Yeah, but are you willing to bust heads to keep the rowdies in line.  The landlord is worried about a growing drug problem in this section of town.  He doesn't want it in his building," JJ asked him.

    "If I have to.  Usually, I prefer other ways of dealing with difficult people," he said with a smirk.

    "What curse them?" JJ asked.

    Wade shrugged and said, "Whatever works."

Scene 32

    Out of the corner of his eye Kevin watched the young dragonborn move about the lab.  There was a grace and power in Kymbrall FeyStone's movements like he'd only seen in the most dedicated of martial artists.  Kevin continued to type the parameters the two had set into computer as he spoke,  "May I ask a question of a personal nature?"
    Kym smiled over at him and said, "Depends on the question."

    "Why not simply go back and get your old armor?" Kevin asked.  "From what I'm told, it does after all belong to you."

    Kym stopped for a moment and Kevin could see the minute shift is weight as the blond looked out over Las Vegas Bay.  Without turning he spoke softly, his voice barely above a whisper.  "Too many strings attached to that armor."

    "I don't recall any...," he stopped realizing that the young warrior did not mean real strings.  "Oh...,  I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to offend."

    Kym turned with a wan smile and said,  "You didn't offend.  You simply asked a question."  He sighed and added, "That armor represents a gift to dragonborn from the dragons.  It was a political gift to an organization to which Ah no longer want to be tied."

    Kevin nodded his head.  He knew there was some bad blood between Kym and the other 'born, he just didn't know what it was about.   Kym had performed far above anybody's expectations in that war, killing more dragons than just about any other person on the field.  "But you feel the need for a bit of steel between your shoulder blades?" he asked with a smile.

    Kym laughed and said, "You sound like mah dad.  No, not really a need for protection, more of a need for symbolism.  Your reality is one with superheroes.  The world has started identifying Dragonphyre with a suit of stylized armor.  Ah would like to continue that identification, but simply with a new set of armor.  A set that Ah paid for out of mah own pocket and that has no strings attached."

    "Well you don't have to pay me for this work.  I'm happy to do it.  I'm curious as to what you are going to do about replacing your sword," though.

    "Ah'm not," Kym said.  Kevin could see a dark worry in the other boy's eyes.  "At least not yet.  It was only really effective against the dragons, something Ah don't think Ah'm going to be fighting again.  Ah can do a lot of damage with my bare hands and feet."

    Kevin nodded and continued enter the data.  "But you want to be able to summon the armor like you did your old."

    Kym nodded and said, "Yeah.  Walking around with a breastplate under mah shirt would kind of give things away.   Ah'm told you were able to create your own high tech armor so that you can summon it to you with just a thought."

    Kevin laughed and said, "Yeah, and I should be able to do the same thing for you, especially since you don't have to interface with any technology."  He looked down at the computer screen.  "Now, I've been told that the stuff you wore before was more ceremonial than practical. Do you to make some changes- to make it more practical?  You know, so your butt isn't hanging out."

    Kym seemed to stop and think about it for a moment.  Finally he shook his head and said, "No, Ah'll take my scars as they come.  The armor is supposed to be a symbol, not for real protection. That's what mah forcefield is for."

    Somewhat surprised, Kevin nodded.  He got the feeling that something more was going on Kym's head than just wanting the symbolism, but it wasn't his place to question it.  He did stop for a moment and study the dragonborn carefully.  His own powers tended to be somewhat scrambled around him.  Kym was from another reality and that made his ability to KNOW what was going on with him somewhat wonky.  Finally he simply asked, "You aren't trying to get yourself killed are you, Kym?"

    The question seemed to actually penetrate the cool exterior of the blond's demeanor.  He stopped and said, "Not that Ah know of."  Kevin wasn't so sure that he was telling the truth.

    "Then you won't mind if I give the bodysuit under the armor a bit of durability then.  It's a new formula I've been working on.  I got the idea from Cyberstar, and am working with one of the Stryker Norris Academies to field test it.  A second test model wouldn't  hurt the data.  It will be flexible, pliable, even soft under most circumstances.  However if it's hit with a strong kinetic force, heat, or energy, it'll go rigid forming hard plates for the duration."

    This time, Kevin could see the conflict in Kym's eyes.  Finally, he nodded and said, "Go ahead.  That would be helpful."

    "I can't believe you even had to think about that," another voice said from across the room.   Kevin turned to see Jake standing there.

    "Jake!" he said.

    "Afternoon, boys," he said.

    "Captain Lee," Kym said formally nodding to the other boy.

    "Not Captain Lee anymore, Kym.  Had to do what you said the Thorns were so good at, change my identity."

    Kym smiled and said, "Very well..., Jacob."

    "You can be an ass sometimes, you know it, Kym?" Jake said with a smile.

    Kym just nodded and said, "So, Ah'm told."

    Jake cam across the room and kissed Kevin on the forehead and then sat himself up on one of the high counters.  "So, we're working on some new Dragonphyre armor. Cool.  You sure you don't want to update it, at least cover your butt?"

    Kym shook his head and said, "No. Ah actually liked my old armor."  Then looking around to make sure that nobody was around, he added, "And to be completely honest, Ah enjoyed the way it put me on display."

    Jake turned and smiled at Kevin and said, "He's going Shan on us.  Before long he'll be flying naked through the sky."

    Kym grinned at him, and the smile actually managed to reach his eyes.  "Let's just say Ah enjoyed some of the scandalous looks Ah would get."

    "You, my young friend," Jake said, "need a boyfriend."

    The smile in Kym's eyes went out like a light being turned off.  His southern accent suddenly thickened as he said firmly, "No, Ah don't.  Boyfriends, friends, or family could get themselves killed because of what we do.  Ah'd rather not put anyone else in danger.  People around me tend to end up with a serious case o' the deads. It's best if they simply stay away."

    Kevin and Jake exchanged looks.  He knew that he and Jake would talk about this particular conversation later.  There was still some undiscussed ramifications of his own death to be covered- along with the conversation he'd had with Leif several months ago.  Finally he turned to Kym and asked, "Summer vacation is coming up. Any plans?"

    Kym chuckled recognizing that Kevin was changing the subject.  He said, "Not yet.  Thought maybe Ah'd see if Ah could enroll in a couple o' summer courses at UNLV.  Build some college credit."

    "You want to go to school over the summer?" Jake asked.  "Not even this egghead was ever that crazy!  Take some time off, Kym. You've been through a lot.  Get yourself centered and figure out where and when you are."

    Kym chuckled and said, "That was why Ah wanted to take some classes.  It would give me a broader exposure to the differences in our timelines."

    "You know, Leif had mentioned that he was thinking to ask you to go hunting with him in Alfheim," Kevin told him carefully.

    "That would be an experience," Kym said.  "If he does, Ah'll definitely consider it."
    "Do that," Kevin said.  "As for your new armor, I should have it ready by the end of the week."

    "Thanks," Kym told him.

Scene 33

    Prince Valkon smiled at the thought of how his brother sauntered into the conference room and announced he had something to tell "Papa Vlad."  Michael was not by any genetic relationship, his brother.  But he was the genetic and bloodline son of Valkons own bloodline progenitor's family.  In some ways, that made them far closer than genetic brothers.  Michael was also not exactly right in the head, as the Americans were wont to say.  He had the mind of a five year old and the body of a fourteen or fifteen year old, and was in actuality far older than that.

    Most of all Michael was the chosen of the spirit of the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.  With his ability to see and speak to spirits, he was a lot like a spiritwaker; but in the end he was something far more dangerous.  The spirits talked to Michael, they watched out for him, and they told him things that were important to them, to the city, and to the nocturnal community as a whole.   Valkon had learned early on in their relationship not to discount anything he had to say.  It didn't always make sense at first, but there were times when it was very insightful.  

   Moreover, Michael did things Michael's way.  They were not always subtle, but they got the job done.  Case in point was the situation with which Valkon was dealing now.  He looked down at the thin man wearing a pair of running shorts and a tee shirt, bound and gagged and laid out on the sofa in the outside waiting area of Vlad's office.   

    He shook his head and said, "I cannot apologize enough for my brother's abrupt actions, Mr. Frostbridge.  I do appreciate your understanding.  As you know, Michael doesn't always stop to think things through when he takes it into his mind to do something."  He bent down and began to untie the other man.  "Several years ago, when my father commented that he had not seen me in a while, Michael took it upon himself to kidnap me from my own shower and bring me here.  I didn't even get a chance to dry off.  I was in New York City at the time."

    Valkon watched Frostbridge's hands very closely.  He was a thin man who appeared to be in his mid thirties, with longish strawberry blond hair and blue eyes.  Valkon knew two things about the man: the first that he was a mage of the first order.  He'd been trained by several of the best, including the Sovereign Mage, Emory Greenbough.  The second was that he was a weretiger.  
    It wasn't that unusual for a shifter to have the mage gift.  But they were limited to using it in their human form only.  Pride mages could sometimes cast a limited number of spells from other forms, but for the most part, the ability to cast magic while in a wereform belonged exclusively to the magecats.  Even limited to casting in his human form the man was still dangerous both in human form and in his wereform.

    Frostbridge nodded his head and massaged first one wrist and then the other. "Exactly why am I here, Valkon?  I haven't broken any covenant."   Valkon could see genuine worry in the man's eyes.  Of course waking up to find yourself bound and gagged and waiting in Vlad's office would be enough to worry anyone.

    "Michael received instructions from his lady that there was information you need," Valkon told him as he poured a glass of scotch and handed it to the man.

    Frostbridge waved it off, still wary of his situation.  "Marie?"

    Valkon smiled.  He'd forgotten that Frostbridge had started out in New Orleans before he'd gotten involved in the Vampire War of the Southeast back in the early eighties.  That involvement had rocketed the young mage, barely sixteen at the time, into the middle of nocturnal politics in the US.  It was rumored that he'd been infected with ailurunthropy by Trey Greenbough during that time.  Although to be honest, he couldn't imagine anyone surviving being bitten by Greenbough or any other weretiger.  "Yeah, I suspect it's Marie.  He's using that same disconnected tone of voice that he uses when he talks about her."

    Frostbridge looked at him and said, "Did anyone bother informing Walther that I've been kidnapped?   I'm supposed to meet with him later this evening."

    Valkon shook his head and gestured toward the door leading to the inner office where Vlad was talking to Michael.  Without comment, Frostbridge entered the room as Valkon told him, "I don't know. But I'll find out."

    Entering the office, Valkon noted that the others were already there.   The small well-appointed room was a bit crowded with his father, his brother, Janos, and all six members of the First Pride.  He looked over to his brother and asked, "Michael, did you tell Chancellor Stone that you were taking Mr. Frostbridge?"

    Michael gave him an innocent look and said, "No.  Should I have?"

    "Well, it's a good idea in these situations.  How would you feel if someone took one of your little friends and didn't tell you about it?" he gently scolded the vampire.

    Michael stopped to think about what he said, "Not happy.  I'd be worried about them."

    "Well, Chancellor Stone will be worried about Mr. Frostbridge,"  Valkon told him.

    "I'm sorry," Michael said with a bit of a pout to his voice.

    "It's okay, Michael," Frostbridge said.  "How have you been?"

    "Pretty well.  They're still putting the city back together since that big storm.  I don't seem to remember other storms taking this long to fix," Michael said with a genuine smile.

    "I will inform Chancellor Stone," Janos, Vlad's chamberlain said backing out of the room.

    "Thank you, Janos," Valkon's father acknowledged he chamberlain's exit.

    "Have I done something to offend the Chancellor of the Southeast?" Frostbridge turned to Vlad and asked.

    Vlad smiled and said, "Not at all, Mr. Frostbridge. I apologize for my stepson's abruptness.  He has some news for you, and tends to take the most direct route in these matters."

    "News?" he asked.

    "It concerns your family," Vlad said.

    "My family?  My parents and the rest of my family were killed in that werewolf attack on the commune when I was thirteen," Frostbridge.

    Vlad smiled and steepled his hands together.  "Ah, not your progenitors, but your descendants, so to speak," he said with just a hint of amusement.

    "Descendants?  I don't have any descendants," Frostbridge said.  

    "Not quite," Vlad said.  "I understand that you made a trip to Miami about twenty-some-odd years ago on some kind of diplomatic overture from Chancellor Stone."

    Valkon noted that Frostbridge seemed to think about what Vlad had said.  Finally, he replied, "Yeah.  I think I remember the one."

    "During that trip, you spent a rather unusual weekend with a young nurse in town for a convention of some sort?"

    Frostbridge nodded his head and said carefully, "Yes, sir...,"

    "Well, it seems that you left more than just footprints on that trip.  You left the young lady with child," Vlad told him.

    "She never contacted me again after that," Frostbridge said, a surprised and worried tone to his voice.  "I had no idea."

    Vlad shook his head and said, "No, she never contacted you because she was married."

    "Married?" Frostbridge asked in shock.

    "Married," Vlad said with a smile.  "I won't fault you for something you didn't know about, Alec.  And from what I know of the young lady's home life, I won't fault her.  At least she was genuinely fond of you and the child was conceived in joy, which is more than can be said for her relations with her husband."  He turned to Brendan, the Pride's primal tiger and asked, "What ever did become of your father, Brendan?"

    Brendan and the other young men exchanged glances.  Valkon may not have been a werecat, but he could tell when there was a secret involved in an exhange, and this one shouted it.  Finally, Brendan said, "What's left of him is sealed behind a wall in the basement of an apartment building on Homestead Air Force Base. But what has this got to do with Mr. Frostbridge."

    Vlad smiled and said, "Come now Brendan.  Has your recent fatherhood so befuddled your brain that you can't recognize when I'm trying to introduce you to your own biological father?"

    Valkon watched the slow dawning of realization as it crossed both men's faces.  In unison they exclaimed, "He's my what?!"

Scene 34

    Merrick thought of the paperwork back on his desk and sighed.  Sometimes he wondered if it was breeding when his back was turned.  It seemed everytime he left his office, there was that much more when he got back.  He briefly considered locking his door and see if it continued to multiply while he was gone.  He was starting to wonder if he'd been hired as an administrator or a file clerk, and whether or not they were the same thing.   The Stryker Norris School Foundation was very well connected, so funding usually wasn't a problem. But the paperwork to get it was sometimes horrendous.  It had orginally been founded in the early eighties to deal with the rising number of transhumans that were starting to appear among the populations. The first school, Pacifica,  had been headed by Doctor Elizabeth Green out in San Medilla, California. Their most famous team had become Paraforce 1 toward the end of the recent Transhuman War. 

    Of course that was a war he and his wife, Nicole had missed.  At the time, they had been in their own reality dealing with their own conflicts, and trying to forge a peace between the dragons and the dragonborn.  It hadn't worked and his entire reality had paid the price for it.  Many people would be surprised to discover that it had been Merrick's actions that had been partially responsible for the unravelling of the forces that made up the membrane protecting his home reality.  He'd been faced with a hard choice and a split second to make it.   He could have done nothing and let his wife's son, Tommy and his family die from a thermo-nuclear blast- the third one dropped on him- or he could snatch the young man and the other thirteen survivors away from certain death and take a chance on destroying his home reality.  Merrick would not allow himself to second guess his choice.  He'd acted and an entire reality died, but Tommy, Elizabeth, and a half dozen 'born/dragon bonded couples had lived.

    After the events of the subsequent Dragon War in this reality, they'd been offered a home and a chance to settle.  They'd also been offered the job of running this school for transhumans as well as a place to farm out the twelve children they'd brought with them into a safe environment.  Homeguard Academy however, was somewhat special as it had its roots all the way back to World War Two and the Homeguard team that had defended the US from fifth columnist, saboteurs, and the occassional supervillain during that awful conflict.  That put a bit of pressure on Nicole and him. This was not quite the flagship school of the foundation, but it was definitely one with a rich history.

    He looked down at the grade reports from his teachers, and then up at the faculty at the meeting and shook his head. "The kids are all over the place.  Some are far ahead and others were woefully behind," Christie Gordon the head of the middle school department was saying.  

    "Are there any patterns in the areas of weakness?"  Merrick asked.

    "Yeah, most of them didn't get the base knowledge they needed in elementary," she said.  "If they'd just learned the basics we could build on it, but half of them don't even know their multiplication tables."

    Merrick shrugged and said, "Assign them extra remedial classes,"

    "The local parents won't like it," Greg Digeronimo  said.

    "They can always withdraw their child," Merrick told him.  "We're not Dekalb County nor Fulton County.  We're private and if we don't think their child is making the grade we can give him or her the help they need, but in the end, it's up to the child and the parent."

    Digeronimo smiled and said, "I'm not arguing with you sir.  I'm just pointing out that there will be complaints."

    "Then direct them to me," Merrick told him.  "I'll deal with them."

    'Yes, sir," Digeronimo replied.

     "Any other issues?" Merrick asked.

    "We're were burning through our uniform budget almost as fast as our legal budget," Melissa Grant, the school's chief financial officer said.

    Merrick nodded his head at that news.  It wasn't unexpected.   Part of that was Nicole's fault. She'd taken one look at the khaki school uniform and immediately set about to changing it. She said it reminded her too much of an old William Holden movie.  Instead she came up with a smart black on black design that stood out while at the same time, wasn't quite so reminescent of the nineteen forties.  When he'd complained about the budget, she'd told him exactly what he could do with his complaints and went out and found the funding for them herself.  "We have alternative funding for the new uniforms.  Just send the bills to Mrs. Bishop and she will take care of them."

    "Yes sir," Grant said.

    He wouldn't say that his relationship with his wife had become strained over the last few months since that uncomfortable Christmas vacation, but he could tell she was worried about Kym.  She'd talked to her nephew at least twice a week since then, but even he could hear the wariness in the boy's voice.  Kym still didn't entirely trust anyone, and Merrick wondered if he ever would.  He also wondered if that was necessarily a bad thing.  In some ways, Kym's attitude was becoming very dragon-like. 

    Forcing his mind away from personal problems, he turned back to the issues at hand.  "How is the integration between the baselines and the transhumans going?"

    "Much smoother than we expected," Tom Allison, the head of the PE department said.  "Once it became understood that the whole purpose of the school was to teach baselines and transhumans to live and get along together it sort of smoothed out.  The mask rule that Mrs. Bishop laid down helped a lot."   

    Merrick smiled at that idea.  Even the dragon and dragonborn couple that were on fourth grade team were required to wear a mask and hold a code name.  The idea was that only the Shan and transhumans who had obvious feral traits that could not be hidden easily would be allowed to not wear a mask when in transhuman identity.  There was just too much of a chance of someone ascertaining the identities of the other students through association otherwise.  Of course it had been Nichole's idea, and she would remind him that all her ideas were good ones.  He couldn't argue with that; after all, she'd married him.

    "Any particular details I need to be made aware of?" he asked. 

    "Well, there's still a slight problem with several of the bunking arrangements.   Some of the students are still getting used to idea of coed suites,"  Grant said.

    "Is that going to pose any problems?" Merrick asked.  He himself was a little worried about that concept, but it seemed to be pretty accepted among the transhumans.  Part of it was the fact that 85% of the so-called "tank" or "brick" and over 70% of the energy manipulators were gay or bisexual anyway, it pretty much made the idea of gender specific housing a moot point.  The psis just didn't seem to care one way or another.   He got the feeling that most of the problems were going to come from the few baseline boarding students.  
    "I'm not sure.  We've had a few baselines threaten to withdraw over the idea.  Most of them worrying about their little angels getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant," Grant said with a smirk, confirming his suspicions.

    "Just how many baseline boarders do we have?" Merrick asked.

    "Six," Grant told him.  "Five boys and one girl."

    "So put all the boys together and put the girl with a predominantly female group."

    "The only predominantly female grouping we have is an Atlantean cadre from one of the minor houses.  It has one boy, and of course, he's a brick."

    "Slide her in with the Atlanteans then," Merrick told her.

    "Yes sir," Grant replied.

    "Is that going to be a problem?" Merrick asked.  "Are her parents some of the ones screaming the loudest?"

    "Actually no.  Her parents signed the co-ed waver without a problem," Grant said.  

    "So it's one of the boys parents objecting?  Financially or politically connected, or is he just someone who wants to be a pain in our ass?"

    "Both.  He's the son of a local media giant who travels a lot.  He's afraid of some girl getting pregnant and using it to tap the family fortune, I think."

    "The man signed off on the waivers, correct?" Merrick asked.

    "Yes sir."

    "The boy passed the baseline aptitude tests to get in, correct?"

    Grant replied, "Barely."

    "In that case, board him with the other baseline boys like we decided earlier. Send his father another copy of the handbook with the articles involving housing as well as his signature highlighted.  If he wants to pull his son, then we can always refund him the difference in tuition," Merrick told her.  "Some people are beginning to see that there will be political and economic advantages to having social and business connections to transhumans.  Let's face it, a huge chunk of the world's wealth is in the hands of various transhumans: Gates and Kevin Murphy, the Greenboughs, the Wrought, Doctor Plainwalker, and of course the Lords of Atlantis have more money than God."

    "Not to mention the sizable amount that you and your family have managed to amass," Grant said.

    "There is that.  How do you think we're paying for the new uniforms?" Merrick snarked.

    "Oh? Didn't Mrs. Bishop tell you? M-7 is donating the new uniforms.  They're a bonus for us testing out the new combat uniform design that Kevin Murphy is coming up with.  He wants to eventually market it to the army."

    Merrick turned and looked at his wife as she came through the door.  "No.  Mrs. Bishop didn't tell me."

Scene 35

    How in the hell did we end up here? Leighanne asked herself as she waited with the rest of her family for the results of the judges' voting.  They were back stage at the Miami Convention Center where Stars of Tomorrow  were holding auditions for the upcoming season.  She couldn't believe that Corey had made it this far.  It wasn't because of any lack of talent- he had that in droves.   It was because of his choice in music.   

    Her first husband- Coreys father- Dillon, had introduced Corey to what she called honky-tonk country.   From an early age, the two would sit and sing along with Hank Williams,  Johnny Horton, and a plethora of other older country crooners.   When Corey turned four, Dillon had sat Corey down at the family piano and they began to peck out the chords of some of their favorite tunes.  It wasn't long before he'd bought him a beginner's guitar and the two would sit and play together a lot later into the night than Leighanne was comfortable for her son staying up.

    She'd tried to temper her son's taste in the older stuff some.  She'd introduced him to some more modern artists, but to be honest she couldn't get him much past Sawyer Brown and Diamond Rio.  He had honky-tonk on the brain.  She secretly suspected that what Corey loved about the songs was the ballad aspects of telling a story that was so prevalent, especially in Johnny Horton's stuff.

     When Dillon had been murdered, she got the feeling that Corey started seeing his music as a connection to his father.  He'd gone even deeper into it telling her that it showed what he was feeling.  That worried her.  Corey was one of the few people in the world whose mind she could not easily read and she was afraid that the stuff would sink him even deeper into a depression.   But, he'd surprised her, and had been right.  The music was a way for the little boy to express the feelings that were tearing him up inside.  Just before being injured, he'd once again submerged himself into his music, trying to give his feelings some form.  Now she knew that he had been pining over the fact that Chris had no interest in him beyond just being best-buds.   At the time it had worried her.

    After recovering from the accident, and then Dragon War he settled down, and actually gotten a boyfriend, but once again the siren song of his music called him back to it.  When Bonnie had shown him the advertisement for the auditions for the Stars of Tomorrow television program, even she'd encouraged him to enter.  She was hoping that the program would force him to expand his musical repertoire.   After all there were only so many honky-tonk songs. Weren't there?

    She watched as Bonnie, Chris, D'an'a and Stefan all hovered around him waiting on the final score.  Leighanne wasn't surprised when the judges announced that Corey was in first place.  She knew he was good, she as just glad that the judges thought he was too.  

    His bald head gleaming in the overhead lights, Mr. Carville, the show's producer came backstage and clapped his hands saying, "Okay, you've got one hour to get changed and get ready for the final performance."  Something caught his eye and he looked behind Leighanne and asked, "Who let the Navy in here?"

    Leighanne turned around to see Captain Carter standing there with two of her officers.  She smiled over at Mr. Carville and said, "Please excuse us, we need to speak with Coral and Depth Charge.  It's very important."  Sensing something was amiss, Leighanne slipped her cell phone from her pocket and started recording.

    The tall bald man's eyes narrowed and he asked, "Can't it wait until after the auditions?"

    "Actually; no," Captain Carter said, her blue eyes narrowing back at the man.  "There are lives at stake."   Leighanne smiled to herself and realized that Mr. Carville had no idea the kind of woman with which he was dealing.  Captain Carter was the captain of the Navy's only nuclear powered research submarine- the Hyperoodon.  The ship that was a joint venture between the Navy and the Woods Hall Oceanographic Institute and had been making some unbelievable discoveries of late.  Captain Carter on the other hand had been very instrumental in getting the navy to work with Corey and D'an'a in various research projects.  She was definitely a force with which to be reckoned. 

    Corey turned to her and asked, "What's wrong Captain Carter?" 

    "There's a sub that's down in your favorite stomping grounds, Corey.  Over a thousand sailors are trapped on the edge of the Puerto Rican trench," Captain Carter told him.  "We've sent down an ROV but it was lost, and we don't know to what.  The problem is that side-scan sonar shows the edge of the crevasse on which it's sitting is exhibiting signs of crumbling.  If it does, it'll be the greatest naval loss since the Arizona."  She looked up at Mr. Carville and said, "So like I said, lives are at stake, sir."

    Carville crossed his arms and said, "Be that as it may, if you leave these auditions, you'll lose your place in the competition.  The rules are the rules."

    Corey and D'an'a exchanged glances and looked over at Leighanne.  Corey shook his head and said, "Mr. Carville, you have no idea how much I want to go on your show.  But as Captain Carter said, lives are at stake.  If those sailors die, I get the feeling any victory from that contest would taste like ashes.  You set the rules for the contest, and I understand that you don't want to bend them. That's cool."  He looked over at Captain Carter and said, "But I can't turn down someone asking us for help; not when people could die." 

    Leighanne had never been prouder of her son when he handed Chris his guitar and said, "Take care of this for me please."  He looked up at Captain Carter and told her, "I'm afraid that we left our harpoons at home.  If time is as important as you say it is, then we don't have time to get them."

    Carter nodded and said, "Let's go. I've got a jet a waiting to take you to the Constellation."

    Leighanne  said, "Actually, your harpoons are in the back of truck."

    Corey nodded  and said, "Then let's get them and get on our way." 

    He turned to Mr. Carville who was shaking his head saying, "Trust me, you'll regret this."

    Corey smiled at him and told him, "Maybe.  But I know I'd regret not helping even more."  Without another word they left the auditions.

Scene 36

    It had been one hell of a day, and Lorna was glad to be back at their new home.  The place was finally coming together and starting to feel like a real home.  She smiled at the thought how many little personal touches each of them had put into the place to make it feel like home.  She tossed her keys into the little silver bowl on the table- something Aerin picked up at a flea market in Eastern Kentucky- shucked her business jacket and lay it over the banister leading upstairs as Leif entered behind her.

    The two had been back east doing a talk show for M-7 while Corbin and Aerin were out in what was left of California stringing the last few miles of power cable.  That was one for the record books, the whole island chain had been rewired and resupplied with electricity by M-7 in just a little over a year.  And it was all optical relay, so there was no danger to anyone who may end up getting into the lines.  It was brand new state of the art technology, and used the most abundant resource on the planet: sand.

    Even eight hours later, Lorna was still chuckling at the way Leif had handled the rather candid questions thrown at him by the women on The Vista.  He actually called one of the grand dames of female reporting a slut and an adulterer on national television, and made her sit and take it.  Not in so many words mind you, but he made it clear that there were somethings a gentleman doesn't discuss, and he sure the hell doesn't write a book about sleeping with a married US Senator.  That pretty much left the woman speechless for the rest of the interview; which was a good thing.  It allowed Lorna to engage the other three women about important issues, like the President's new Transhuman Registration Bill that was appeared to be stuck in the Senate.

    They talked about the rising star of Beth Nichols, formerly Northwind as she geared up her own political campaign.  Most of all, it allowed her pretty much direct the conversation where they wanted it to go.  During their little twelve minute segment, they managed to cover all the good that M-7 was doing out west in getting California back online, and how the company had shifted gears and was now working almost exclusively with State and Local police jurisdictions to help deal with terrorism, natural disasters and the occasional transhuman bad guy.

    Lorna would be the first to admit though that the main reason they'd been able to do that was simply the strength of their personalities.  Most people were incapable of meeting the gaze of any of the Wrought for more than a few seconds.  It was simply a matter of divine will meeting human perceptions.  There was no psionic manipulation- that was Aerin's area of specialty- instead it was simply what Corbin called their "awe factor".     Whatever it was, it made their interview that much easier.  It also sent a message to the talking heads. The Wrought will not tolerate having their personal lives hung out like last week's dirty laundry.  There were still a few people in this world with some self-respect and class.

    As she kicked her shoes off next to the stairs she sighed and padded across the expensive Persian rug- something that Corbin had bought while in Germany- on the way to the kitchen.  As she passed through the main living room, she looked over at the small altar that Aerin and Leif kept by the fireplace.  Something was missing.  Entering the kitchen with Leif right behind her, she asked, "Leif, where's your hammer?"

    Leif smiled and slipped past her.  He opened the fridge and withdrew the jug of milk and took a long swig.  Putting it back in the icebox, he smiled over at her and said, "I loaned it to Wade."

    "Why did you loan the hammer you and Aerin use for blot to Wade?" she asked as she picked up an apple and took a bite and then opened the back door to let the cats in.  

    Both cats immediately flew in on feathered wings and landed at the big blond's feet and began rubbing up against his legs.  He reached down and gently stroked both of them between their wings and then smiled over at her.  "Lee Plainwalker was attacked by a vampire.  Junior and Wade and a few others are going teach him the error of his ways."

    Lorna couldn't believe any vampire would be dumb enough to break the Covenant.  Going after a kid meant the final death- no questions asked.   "Is he okay?"

    Leif nodded and said, "Yeah, he's staying with the Trey Greenbough's grandparents in Alfheim."

    "Somehow I get the feeling that he's in far more danger there than here," she said with a smile.

    "What do you mean?" Leif asked as he took down a can of wet cat food from the cabinet.

    "All that cute blond hair and all those alf girls.   He's about the age when they start playing "I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours". 

    "Yeah, there is that.  I understand that Trey spent quite a few afternoons out in the barn with this girl named Ljufa."

    "I thought that was Ridvin," she said as she leaned against the counter watching her consort feed the cats.  It was such a dichotomy between reality and his reputation.  Such a huge ferocious man was deep down one of the most gentle souls she'd ever known.

    He looked up and asked, "How do you know about Ridvin?" 
    "Some stories are so poignant, so primal that they get out.  Mother told us the story when we were little.  I think she was trying to prepare us for working with you."

    He nodded and dished out the food.  "We're very careful about mentioning Ridvin.  Rumor has it that there's been some wheeling and dealing with someone and my uncle concerning Ridvin and nobody wants to jinx it."

    She frowned and said, "That hardly seems fair.  I mean if nobody remembers him, what happens to his soul?"

    "That's what we're afraid of jinxing.  Nobody is sure, but there's definitely something going on." Leif told her.

    "Okay, but what's that got to do with you loaning Wade your hammer?" she asked as she caught herself watching the way the light played across his muscles.  He moved with a grace and ease that belied his large size.

    "It's one of the few things we can do: bless things," he told her.   "Can you imagine what's that thing will do to a vampire?"

    "But Wade's Wiccan, not Asatru," she said.

    "No, but it's close enough," Leif said. "And I made a point to put a little extra in the blessing."

    She smiled at the thought of Leif going an extra little bit to make sure that he could get a dig at the vampire who'd attacked their little friend.  When they were at the Academy, little Lee had sort of become a darling of every class.  He was a bright and vibrant little boy who reveled in his ability to shapeshift into a metallic werecat-like feral.  The idea of any vampire attacking him made her blood boil.  "What did you do?" she asked.

    "Let's just say that when Wade needs it against the vampire, he can share some of my strength," he told her.

    "That's going to impress Junior," she told him stepping in close and running her hand across his broad chest.

    "I thought it might," he said, sweeping her to him with a gentleness that always surprised her considering his strength.   He bent down and kissed her gently and she felt a fire begin to burn inside her.  She'd been feeling it build all the way to the airport, and then on the flight home.  The kiss simply turned up the heat, transforming it from a slow burn to a sudden inferno in her loins.

    She pressed her smaller frame against his and pulled his face down to hers and kissed him fiercely.   He wrapped his strong arms around her and smiled into the kiss as his large hands began to massage her backside.  She heard a groan and realized that it was coming from her own throat.  She felt her sex begin to heat up, and could feel a slick heat spreading out from the crotch of her panties.  With her thumbs, she reached up under the sharp business skirt she was wearing, hooked her thumbs into the sides of her underwear and pushed them them down.

    Breaking the kiss, she stepped back and slipped them the rest of the way down her legs and stepped out.  Leif gave her a questioning look and asked, "What's gotten into you?"

    "I've been on a slow burn ever since you told that old hag with a speech impediment that you were not going to discuss your bedroom activities on national television with people you don't know.  When you called her on admitting to an affair with a married man, I thought her jaw was going to hit the table.  The look you gave those two washed up comediennes was priceless.  You were my knight in shining armor today," she told him reaching for his belt buckle.

    He chuckled and said, "Don't you want to take this to the bedroom then?"

    "Why? she asked in a very seductive voice.  "We're here, and I'm ready."  He smiled and kissed her again, all the while she was working at the belt of his dockers.  Lorna had never met a man who could fill out a pair of slacks like Leif Hunter- both front and back.  But then again, she'd admit that she was prejudiced.

    Finally getting them open, she pushed his slacks and briefs both down the front of his well toned thighs and smiled at the eight inch pillar of hard wide flesh that was making a slow arc as it rose in front of his stomach.  She reached down and took the length in her hand and stroked it up and down reveling in feeling the way the foreskin would roll up over the glans; loving the wide expanse that she knew would stretch her and give her that wonderful sense of being full that she she so craved.

    She lifted one leg up and wrapped it around his waist until she could feel the tip of his dick poking at front of her slit.  Then with a grace and ease of a gymnast, she lifted the other, climbing his frame until she had her legs locked behind her.   She felt his hands go to her ass to support her weight as she lowered herself onto his dick, loving the way it stretched her opening wide.  Leaning in, she gave him a playful smile and kissed him.  "I've been so hot, I'm surprised you couldn't smell it."

    He smiled and kissed her back as he began to lift her up until his cock was barely inside her, the wide head flaring the inner lips of her pussy, and then let her slide back down until he was embedded in her to the point that his white pubes were mixed with her black.  "I did, but a gentleman doesn't comment unless invited."

    "Well you know the invitation is always open for you or my brother," she said told him briefly thinking of the their other two lovers out in California. 

    He nodded to her and began to walk over toward the table in the center of the room.  She heard the ripping of cloth and realized that she probably should have let him step out of his slacks before impaling herself on him.  He just smiled at her sheepishly and said, "Guess, these pants can go in the garbage."  He set her butt on the table and she leaned back on the hard maple.  Pulling her legs up a little higher, he hooked her ankles over his broad shoulders and went to work thrusting into her seriously.  

    She was so horny it didn't take long for her to be right on the verge of a powerful first orgasm.  With a couple of long powerful strokes, he took her over the edge.  She felt a spot at the back of her pussy suddenly explode and rush through her body.  For just a second, she felt her vision shrink to small tunnel and the only thing she could do was make a quiet mewling sound. 

    When she came down from it, she looked up to see Leif's handsome face just inches from her as he continued to pound away at her.  With a smile he said, "That didn't take long."

    She pulled him down into a kiss, as he set about to seriously fucking her.  It was a failing of the tall blond man.  He always wanted to make sure that his lover reached climax before he did, wanting to ensure that his lover has a good of time as he was. sometimes forgetting that he's supposed to enjoy it as well.  It was a strange failing in a magecat, since they had a reputation of being sensualists.  She watched as he pushed her blouse up over her breasts and ran a hand under her bra.  With a quick twist he unhooked the front clasp and buried her left nipple in his mouth.

    Before she realized it, she was on the upswing of second orgasm.  She started bucking her hips against his, meeting his thrusts and relishing the feeling of his wide dick stretching her, filling her, loving her.   Right as she reached the point of no return, he suddenly started pounding away harder, his body became stiff, and she could feel the length of flesh buried in her begin to spasm. She knew he was filling her with his cum and that was all it took to send her over the edge.

    Several minutes later, he looked at her and asked, "Are you sated enough now to take this to the bedroom?"

    She nodded, smiled and asked him,  "Why are you so interested in taking it to the bedroom?"

    He nodded over to where the two winged cats were sitting by the door watching them.  He said, "Because I'm tired of hearing them critique my technique."