March 2001; 13,300 words. This is apart from my regular series of fanfic.
“If I had said, ten years ago, that the National
Conference on Law Enforcement would be doing inservices on working with
inhuman populations, everybody would have laughed at me,” Matt Bluestone said as the 777 began its descent.
In the window seat, Elisa Maza yawned in hopes of popping her ears, with no luck. “Ten years ago, they were probably laughing
at your predictions anyway, partner.”
He snorted and made a sour face. “And haven’t I been proven right every time? I said there were aliens, and just a few years
later, boom, a shipload of them crashes in California. I said there was such a thing as the Loch Ness monster, and lo and behold,
there was. I said the Illuminati were running the show, and what do you know, they are!”
“I believe you, I believe you.”
“You didn’t at first.” He slouched until his knees were pressed against the tray table in its locked-and-upright position. “Nobody
“I believe you now, don’t I?”
“Finally. So what are we going to say at this talk, anyway?”
Elisa shrugged. “You’re the head of the Gargoyle Task Force; you tell me.”
“You know them better than I do.”
“The conference isn’t going to be interested in getting to know them.” She scowled. “We’re addressing ‘police response to
inhuman issues,’ remember?”
“You’ve got to admit,” Matt said, “it does put a whole new spin on race relations.”
The plane had been cruising in vivid blue sunlit skies above a fluffy, billowing bed of white. As they entered the cloud bank, the
light dimmed and spats of sleet appeared on the windows. Moments later, they came through into the somber grey and rainwashed
green world of Washington State. It looked all wrong to Elisa’s eyes, the way the city of Seattle rose and fell over its hills, and
sprawled around lakes and waterways with trees and buildings seeming to be almost evenly-matched.
“One nice thing about first-class,” Elisa observed as she watched the runway come up at them, “is that we’ll be able to get off
the plane right away.”
“For someone who spends so much time gliding around town, I had no idea you didn’t like flying,” Matt said.
“I don’t mind that,” she said. “It’s when we land and everyone squashes into the aisles to get their stuff out of the overhead bins,
and then stands there waiting for the crowd to thin.”
“Well, we can thank Xanatos for it. I’m just glad the captain agreed to let him foot the upgrade bill.”
Elisa grinned wryly. “Not her idea. If the mayor hadn’t leaned on her, she never would have gone for it. Makes it look like the
police are taking bribes.”
“You still don’t trust him, do you?”
“Never will,” she said brightly. “We’ve learned to work around each other, and as long as he doesn’t get out of bounds, I guess
I can put up with him.”
They landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport only six minutes behind schedule, and as Elisa had noted, were first off the
plane into the concourse. Like any metropolitan airport, it was packed with a cross-section of the population. Her trained eye
noticed some differences from New York right away – there were a lot more Asians and a lot fewer Latinos, for one, and the skin
of the average Caucasian was a lot pastier. She remembered a coffee mug she’d seen once, with a design of the Space Needle as
an umbrella and the saying, “Seattlites don’t rain, we rust.” How true it was!
Because the Conference spanned four days and Captain Chavez had been insistent that Elisa and Matt make a good impression,
she hadn’t been able to get away with cramming a few spare t-shirts and pairs of jeans into a carry-on. But even if she had, she
wouldn’t have been able to escape baggage claim; Matt had splurged on some new suits and a garment bag.
By the time they got to the carousel with their flight number flashing above it in red bulbs, they had passed no less than four latte
stands and a full-blown Starbucks coffee shop. As Elisa was shouldering between a lank-haired, goatee-wearing guy and a woman
yapping into a cel phone, she felt a sharp nudge in her side.
“Look!” Matt said.
She looked at him first, seeing the wide-eyed, kid-on-Christmas wonder, and then followed his gaze.
“An alien!” he added in something akin to rapture.
And there, in the flesh, was the first Newcomer Elisa had seen anyplace except on television. He was tall, almost seven feet, and
would have been noticeable enough even without the large, spotted, earless head. His suit was impeccable and steel-colored, the
sort of outfit that might make Xanatos have Owen discreetly inquire as to his tailor was, with a white shirt and a tie as glossy and
black as a thin slab of obsidian. His face, once one could get past staring at that smooth hairless expanse of skull, with its creamy-
mocha spots against light-salmon skin, was sculpted and handsome. Give him nicely-silvering hair, Elisa thought, and he’d look
The Newcomer was carrying a briefcase and trailing a roll-along suitcase, and appeared to be listening and nodding to the human
man at his side. The human was in a chauffeur’s uniform, and a sign with “Leonard” printed on it dangled from his hand.
The guy with the goatee had retrieved his baggage – a battered black duffel and a guitar case covered with stickers, which went
oddly with the new and obviously expensive laptop computer case slung on a strap over his shoulder. He looked from the Newcomer
to Elisa, and asked, “Hey, isn’t that Benjamin Leonard?”
Elisa shrugged. “You’re asking the wrong person.”
Matt, having overheard, said, “The Newcomer, you mean?”
“Yeah. I’ve seen him in Scientific American or something.”
“I thought they all had weird names,” Elisa said. “Like Johnny Comelately or June Bugg.”
“Jeez.” Matt rolled his eyes. “Part of the purpose of this Conference is to help us get past those racial stereotypes, partner.”
The guy snickered. “Yeah … but Benjamin Leonard wasn’t his original Immigration name. He changed it.”
“What was it before?” Elisa asked, and Matt grimaced and braced himself.
“Spock,” the guy said. “Mister Spock. But then it turned out he was a doctor, and he couldn’t very well go by Dr. Spock either …”
Elisa and Matt groaned in stereo. “It’s going to be one of those weeks,” Matt added. He spied his garment bag and leaned past
Elisa to snare it. Elisa, stepping aside to give him room, saw the Newcomer and his human escort pass through a pair of automatic
sliding doors to the loading zone. A long black limo was there, with the uniformed driver moving to open the rear door for Leonard.
In the moment before the Newcomer’s large body blocked her view, Elisa glimpsed another man in the car, leaning forward as if
in greeting. She only saw him for an instant, but in that instant her every nerve went on full alert. Black hair, short beard –
“What is it?” Matt asked, having picked up on her sudden change of mood.
“Just a minute.” She craned her neck, hoping for another look, but the driver closed the door before she could see the other man
“What?” Matt nagged.
“I thought …” She shook her head. “There was someone in that limo, and I only saw him for a second but something about him ...
familiar ... I don’t know.”
“Who was it?”
“I don’t know,” she repeated. “If I’d just gotten a little bit more of a look!”
“Come on,” Matt said, and handed her a suitcase – her own, he must have picked it up from the carousel when she wasn’t paying
attention. “Let’s get a cab. We’ve been on a plane for seven hours, and if your brain is as fried as mine feels, we’ll both be seeing
ghosts all the way to the hotel.”
Getting a cab proved to be easy enough at the airport, but as they drove into downtown Seattle proper, Elisa realized that it would
be damn near impossible anyplace else. Where were all the taxis? The traffic was bad enough – though people actually did heed the
traffic lights and parking laws – but the streets weren’t a sea of yellow like she was used to.
They didn’t see any ghosts, either. Though ghosts might have been preferable …
“Aww, crud,” Matt said. “Should have expected this.”
Their cab slowed as it neared the hotel. A large marquee outside welcomed all Conference attendees and saluted “America’s
Finest,” but the roundabout driveway and the sidewalks were packed with protesters. Most had signs demanding an end to police
brutality, but several others could have come straight from Quarryman H.Q. These showed gargoyle silhouettes in red-barred circles,
and had slogans such as “Don’t Get Stoned!” The anti-gargoyle crowd mingled shoulder-to-shoulder with the anti-Newcomer people,
whose signs read “E.T. Go Home” and “P.P.I. Now – Preserve Planetary Integrity!”
A bunch of Seattle cops in riot gear stood by, making a visible presence but not coming near enough to intimidate. Elisa and Matt
shared a glance. The actions, or inactions, of the Seattle P.D. had been under severe criticism ever since the WTO riots, which had
seemed to trigger a wave of craziness in the Emerald City. On any occasion thereafter – the WTO anniversary, Mardi Gras, St.
Patrick’s Day, name it – there were always those ready to seize any excuse to break windows and beat people up. And no matter
what the boys in blue did, they would get lambasted for it. Take a forceful stand? Police brutality. Hold off? Failure to protect the
peace and public property. No way to win.
“God, I’m glad I talked Goliath out of coming along,” Elisa muttered.
“Yeah,” Matt said. “The travel arrangements would have been hard enough, and then to have this waiting for him … don’t people
have anything better to do? I guess everybody needs a hobby, but still.”
“Being an intolerant jackass isn’t a hobby,” Elisa said. “Unfortunately, it’s a way of life.”
“You okay in there, partner?” Matt Sikes called through
the door to the bathroom that connected their rooms.
“These stains will never come out,” came George’s reply. “What was that, anyway?”
“It smells like hazelnut with a shot of cinnamon, not to mention all the foamy cream. They call that coffee?”
“Get with the local scene, George. You can’t get a plain black cuppa joe in this town if your life depended on it.” He crossed to
the window and looked down. From here, the crowd in front of the hotel could barely be seen, thanks to the covered breezeway in
front of the main doors.
Behind him, George Francisco emerged from the bathroom still dabbing futilely at the brownish splotches on his suit coat, and
shaking his head. “Thank Celine I didn’t bring Susan or the children. This sort of thing always upsets her.”
“Hell, yeah,” Sikes said. “It upsets me, too. The only reason I didn’t go after the bozo who threw that and feed him his own butt
was because you stopped me.”
“We don’t need any trouble.”
“I’ve got news for you, partner … need it or not, we get it.”
“It would hardly do, Matthew, to have your first action upon reaching the Conference be to rough up a local.”
“Didn’t you hear, George? It’s never the locals causing problems here … it’s ‘out-of-town hooligans.’ I hear they’re even to blame
for that earthquake.”
“I hardly think that’s possible. Tectonic plates --”
“Spare me the geology lecture, okay? My point is, I get so damn sick of those Purists trying to undercut everything having to do
with Newcomers. You guys have been here almost ten years now. You’d think they would just get over it.”
“Matthew, human history is rife with examples of how your species can’t ‘just get over’ anything. You’ve been persecuting each
other for, frankly, the silliest differences, for thousands of years. You can’t really expect them to accept us with open arms after ten …
or a hundred.”
“That’s another thing that makes me sick,” Sikes said, turning away from the window to regard his partner with puzzled annoyance.
George just stood there and looked back, his eyes like a puppy’s beneath the sweeping bald crest of his head. By now, Sikes knew
that the various patterns of spots represented George’s ancestry – that trident-shaped letter-E thing was for the Family: Heroes of
Soren'tzahh, while that swirly crescent was the mark of Family: Third Star's Ocean. George’s son Buck had inherited the same thing –
male pattern spotness – while the girls, Emily and Vessna, took more after their mother.
“What does?” George asked.
“The way you roll over and take it.”
“What good would it do to get angry?” There was a flicker down deep in those puppy-dog eyes that belied his words. “Don’t think
that it doesn’t make my hearts burn whenever I see a Purist’s sign – you know it does. But we cannot confront them violently. That will
only prove everything they wish to believe about us. That we’re monsters.”
“Most people know better.”
“No, Matthew … most ‘people’ are frightened and ignorant, and you know it. Some, like you, have come to know us for what we
are, and know that you do not need to fear us. Others take refuge in that fear, because it is easier to accept than to think.”
“Three cheers for the human race,” Sikes said sourly. “This is why we never made a go of the space program, you know that? Not
because of the money. Because it would shake our tight little world if we really did find little green men on Mars.”
“A common fallacy. There are no men on Mars, green or otherwise.”
“Yeah, George, I know. That’s not the point.” He sighed. “I don’t know why we’re here. Why we even bother. Oh, right, it’s
“Matthew,” George said, clapping a hand to his shoulder. “We have to. It’s your job, but it is my life. My future. And that of my
children. Not to mention yours.”
“Say what?” Sikes eyed him warily. “Cathy tell you something she hasn’t told me? We can’t have children, George. We tried that
already, remember?” The thought of Cathy, beautiful, elegant Cathy Frankel with her pattern of tiny perfect spots, made Matt abruptly
homesick though they’d only left L.A. that morning.
“I know,” George said, the memory still sharp between them of Matt and Cathy’s tiny son. “But there is Aalice to consider, and
the doctors who treated your son did have a point. We Tenctonese are an adaptable race. In a generation or two, we might well be
compatible with humans.”
“We saw how well that went over.” Matt shook his head brusquely. “No more, George. You want some chow?”
“Anything,” George said, “but coffee.”
“Mind if I smoke?”
“As a matter of fact, I do.”
“I thought it didn’t bother you guys.”
“We may not be susceptible to your tars, nicotines, and cancers,” Fhedra said, “but that doesn’t mean we find the smell pleasant.”
Shooting him a dirty look, the human subsided and returned the pack of cigarettes to his pocket. He picked up a magazine and
began flipping through it, pretending to be ignoring Fhedra.
They were such slaves.
An entire planet of them. Smaller, weaker, less hardy than the Tenctonese … that would mean they couldn’t be as durable and
efficient workers, but what they lacked in value was more than made up for in volume. Not only were there already six billion of them,
but they would be far easier to breed in captivity.
Fhedra often thought that such was the core of his race’s problem. However it had come about, the necessity of three sexes to
create new life only complicated things.
The binnaum population, vital to catalyze the linnaum-ta, had always been a minority. And now, since landing on Earth and
adopting decidedly non-Tenctonese ideals, more and more of the binnaum-ta had forsaken their religious orders, abandoned their
holy duty, and even taken mates of their own. They were trying too hard to blend in, to make gannaum-ta of themselves, because it
was too strange for their new neighbors to handle the concept of three genders. Add in the difficulty of gestation, what with transferring
the natal pod from mother to father, and it was no wonder the humans could outbreed them.
With our superior strength, Fhedra thought, and our superior intellects, our resistance to disease and chemical substances,
our longevity … we should be masters of this world.
But the Tenctonese had been conditioned for helplessness too long. It had been a rare, momentous chain of events that led to the
rebellion that crashed them on Earth, dumping the hapless slaves into a strange situation. Few of them had been prepared to take
control of their lives, settling quite happily into the niche humanity provided – tireless, unskilled labor.
It was the rare Tenctonese indeed who could rise above such a menial station. Only the ones who had, on the ship, been allowed
positions of more privilege and responsibility, positions that not only permitted but required active thought, tended to make something
of themselves. The medics, the teachers, the scientists …
… and of course, the Overseers.
As the limo started across the West Seattle Bridge, Fhedra – now known as Benjamin Leonard – reflexively glanced at his wrist. It
was barely visible beneath the smart cuff of his suit, and the band of his watch resting flush against his skin. Of the mark, the jagged
black bracelet-tattoo of the kleezantsun\, there was no sign.
He remembered it all too well. How, as the alarm went out among the Overseers that the ship had been sabotaged and was going
down, they had rushed to hide all the marks of their office.
Fhedra had been one of the lucky ones. He could still remember the terrible, acidic agony as the lasers bathed his skin, eating away
the ink that had been implanted around his wrist. With the tattoo gone, with his uniform replaced by the tattered rag of a slave, with
his prod left behind, it had been an easy matter to mix with the panicked cargo.
But carefully … carefully. He had seen two other Overseers give themselves away by forgetting to behave abjectly. The instant the
cargo had reason to suspect kleezantsun\, they reacted with terror and violence.
He wondered sometimes at the foolish desperation of the slaves that had arranged the course change and crash. Had they known
the surface of the target world was ¾ covered in a deadly solution of salt water? Or had they decided that even such a fate was better
than continuing to live under the yoke of the Overseers?
Eventually, they would be found. It would be better for all concerned, particularly the Overseers, if it could be shown that efforts
had been made to bring the cargo under control. Add to it, even. The addition of several billion human slaves would mean great status
for whoever could cement it.
That, Fhedra vowed, would be him. And if it meant tinkering with Tenctonese biology, what of it?
The limo, already dimly lit by what damp daylight filtered through its tinted windows, grew darker still as they drove down an incline
into a subterranean parking garage.
“Here we are.” The man seated across from Fhedra put down his magazine and smoothed the strands of dead cellular matter
sprouting from his scalp. In his case, it was as black and shiny as Fhedra’s tie, and more of it grew in a short bristle from his chin and
under his nose. He was built short – especially to a Newcomer, whose average height was over six feet – but very athletic. In khakis,
waffle-soled boots, and a fleece-lined denim jacket over a black turtleneck, he looked more ready to go hiking in the Cascades than
riding in the back of a limousine.
But the gun in the shoulder-holster beneath the jacket wasn’t for taking potshots at ducks or deer, and eyes less keen than Fhedra’s
might not have noticed the bulge along one forearm. A knife-case, he was guessing, probably spring-loaded and able to deliver six
to eight inches of honed steel into the man’s hand with a mere flick of the wrist.
“Thank you, Mr. Vaughn,” Fhedra said. “I’m most looking forward to my tour.”
“The doc says it’s about time you saw what your money and research have gotten you.”
“Yes, and I am eager to renew our acquaintance in person.”
The limo slid neatly into a parking place near a bank of elevators, and Fhedra emerged into the cool, moist air. He was glad he’d
remembered to bring his portable UV lamp.
The elevator carried them up several floors, where they emerged into a reception room done in creams and chocolate browns.
Fhedra waited patiently as his escort spoke to a receptionist, observing that the other man seemed wary to the point of timorousness
around the lean, tough Vaughn. So much so, in fact, that he only glanced at Fhedra twice.
Soon, key cards were handed over and Vaughn led Fhedra down a couple of hallways to yet another elevator. This one, a security
one, took them up another three floors and opened onto a short spur of hall and then to a longer hallway that ringed the outer edge
of the building. One wall was floor-to-ceiling window, and by now they were forty or more floors above street level. The interior wall
was broken at intervals by doors, most with wire-reinforced glass set into their upper halves.
At one of these, Vaughn stopped and used his key-card to open it. Fhedra followed him inside, and down a short flight of steps
that led to the laboratory floor. The spacious room all around him was filled with computer consoles, medical equipment, and enclosed
chambers of all shapes and sizes. Some of these were occupied, and the sight of the occupants made Fhedra’s hearts pound faster. But
before he could more fully examine his surroundings, he became aware of another man, rising and coming toward him with hand
outstretched and a welcoming, if slightly smug, smile.
“Doctor Leonard! What a joy to finally see you again!”
Fhedra returned the smile, and the handshake. “And you, Doctor Sevarius. And you.”
“I know I knew that guy,” Elisa said. “Damn. It’s
going to bother me all day.”
“Better get over it,” Matt Bluestone advised. “We’ve got the opening speeches at five, and our talk is first thing tomorrow morning.
Me, I’m just glad about the time difference being in our favor. That way, it won’t really seem like we have to get up at seven in the
They were in the hotel dining room, Matt discovering that they didn’t do Reuben sandwiches right on this coast and Elisa discovering
that Copper River Salmon was worth every bit of the hype. It was a big meal for a late lunch, but her internal clock was telling her it
was three hours later – not that much longer until the clan would be waking up, breaking out of their stone shells in that unforgettable
show that never failed to delight and awe her.
“Hey,” Matt said, nudging her foot under the table. “There’s another one. I bet he’s here for the Conference.”
Sure enough, a Newcomer was sitting on the other side of the dining room, working on a salad while watching with what looked
like polite amazement as his companion chomped into the biggest, sloppiest burger Elisa had ever seen.
“Sure,” she said. “I heard some detectives from L.A. were going to be on our panel too.”
The alien was less striking than the one they’d seen earlier. He had a more careworn face, and kindly eyes nested in the crinkles of
laugh-lines. He wore a navy-blue suit with a striped tie, and was in all ways a distinct contrast to the man across from him, in faded
jeans and a leather jacket that had seen better days. The burger-eater, now in the process of adding more catsup to an already-dripping
handful, was a year or two older than Elisa, with unkempt brown hair and features that gave him a weird resemblance to a younger,
better-looking version of Mick Jagger.
And the table-manners of Broadway …
“I’m telling you, George,” he proclaimed loudly, through a wad of meat, poking a sliver of onion back into the corner of his mouth
and shoving a few steak-cut fries in after it, “if those Purist sons-of-bitches want to make trouble, I’ll be happy to oblige.”
“Please, Matthew,” replied the Newcomer, “keep your voice down. Or your mouth closed while you chew. Or both?”
“Hey, another Matthew, how about that?” asked Elisa in a low tone.
“Hold it right there, nobody calls me Matthew,” Matt protested. “Except for my mother, and only then when she’s really ticked
“Yeah, Elisa Maria.”
“Ouch, okay, got it.”
They finished their meals and headed for the auditorium at ten ‘til five, finding the place already half-full with badges and detectives
from all over the country, some local politicians, and a reporter or two. At a long table set up in the hall outside, they checked in and
received plastic nametags.
The Newcomer and his partner – the way they bickered told Elisa they had to be partners, since no other relationship but marriage
explained that kind of aggravation and affection (aggrafection?) – went past them and sat further up, on the other side of the aisle. There
were other Newcomers in the crowd, but after checking the program Elisa deduced that George was none other than George Francisco,
first Newcomer detective in the country. He and his partner, Matt Sikes, were listed along with her and Bluestone, for the panel in the
The mayor got things started at three minutes after five, thanking them all for coming and expressing his certainty that the represented
the best of law enforcement officials today. He droned on in this vein for an eternity before introducing Seattle’s chief of police and some
of the other political hotshots, and then started inviting them up to make their speeches.
In less than an hour, Elisa had tallied the phrase ‘service to the community’ eight times, ‘the public interest’ five times, and bringing
up the rear, ‘interdepartmental cooperation’ three times. When Matt leaned over to see what she was doing on the back of her program,
he had to fight back a laughing fit and went to the rear of the room where pitchers of ice water, coffee urns (Seattle’s Best is proud to
support our police departments! announced the placard by the urns), and soft drinks.
Just as she was thinking that her dinner was making her sleepy and if something didn’t happen soon to liven things up, an explosion
shook the building and the lights went out, plunging them into sudden darkness.
Matt Sikes was washing his hands, after having finally
obeyed George’s increasingly insistent proddings to go clean up the catsup
residue on his shirt. This from a guy who had never managed to get all the coffee stains off his tie but wouldn’t take it off because Susan
had given it to him expressly to go with that suit … he should talk! But George was whipped, and Sikes only had generic slobbiness
as an excuse.
He rinsed and looked for paper towels, and found only those stupid air-blowers. Because here in the environmentally-conscious
Pacific Northwest, don’t you know, it made more sense to burn electricity than dispose of paper. Resigned, he stuck his hands under
and began to rub them as the instructions said, and that was when he heard a thunderous bang. The floor jumped beneath his feet, the
men’s room went dark, and the hot air cut off.
“Whoa!” Sikes grabbed the wall and thought about the earthquake that had rocked Seattle only a few months ago. But earthquakes
didn’t sound like giant-sized cannon blasts, and he had a pretty good idea what did.
He groped for the door and let himself out, hearing commotion and raised voices from the direction of the auditorium. The emergency
lighting came on in pallid yellow smears. He headed that way at a run, rounded a corner, and was almost bowled over by three guys
carrying long brushed-steel canisters … the exact size and shape of the ones shot out of tear-gas launchers.
“Hey!” Sikes yelled, and charged at them.
They didn’t hear him amid all the other noise, split off, and reached the doors to the auditorium before he could catch up. Two of
them rolled their canisters along the floor, and the third made like a quarterback, chucking it over the heads of the people just beginning
to stream out.
“Gas! Fire in the hole!” Sikes bellowed at the top of his lungs.
A few heard him, but no one could tell just where he was pointing. Moments later, three dull hissing crumps sounded, and thick
bilious smoke began filling the room. The three perps, moving with drill-team synchronization, brought out sawed-off shotguns from
beneath their coats and opened up. Some of their targets fell, screaming, while the rest of the crowd that had been surging toward the
exits now reversed their efforts. By the sounds of it, chairs and people were getting knocked over and trampled, and in all that smoke
and darkness, no one could see or breathe.
“Hey!” Sikes yelled again, drawing his gun and running up behind the nearest perp. The guy didn’t hear him, and as gung-ho as he
was, not even Sikes was going to shoot someone in the back. He clubbed the guy hard upside the head and dropped him like a felled
One of the others spotted him and swung the shotgun in his direction. Sikes saw it coming and knew there was nowhere to go, but
the shot went high and he went low, hugging the carpet like it was Cathy and he hadn’t seen her in weeks – and what he’d give just to
live through this craziness so he could see her again! A rain of hard pellets struck the wall above him and some of them rebounded,
pelting him with … with … rubber stun-bullets, riot-control stuff.
And the whiffs of smoke curling out of the doors did indeed have the unmistakable eye-stinging tang of tear gas. Put together with
the protesters outside, and Sikes knew what was up. Which didn’t mean he had to like it.
He came up fast, tackling the one who’d shot at him around the waist. They crashed over the registration table, knocking pens and
papers everywhere. Sikes wound up on the bottom, but that didn’t stop him from being the aggressor. He rammed his knee up, and
the perp curled like a brine shrimp.
As he was getting up, more gunfire erupted, and this was the genuine article. Sikes flung himself flat again and looked out from
beneath the flounce that draped the table and saw a team of black-clad, armed men and women raking the air overhead with machine
guns. Their leader was a short, bearded dude in a denim jacket, but Sikes couldn’t make out any more because all of them were wearing
They rushed into the confusion that was the auditorium. Sikes tried to follow, but it was like fighting his way upstream.
“Matt! Matt!” he heard in the general din. Sounded like George.
He couldn’t see the mercs – that was almost what they had to be, mercenaries. The large room was chokingly dense with gas and
smoke, and Sikes yanked the collar of his t-shirt over the lower half of his face. It didn’t help much, his eyes gushing and making it even
harder to see as he blundered his way in.
The Newcomers weren’t bothered by tear gas and most other toxic substances, and Sikes saw several of them trying to help their
human counterparts. Then he saw the mercs closing in on spotted heads. In the shoving, pushing crowd, they went with purpose from
one Newcomer to the next and were trying to lead them away at gunpoint. Toward the windows.
“Matt!” Cough! “Matt! Where are you?”
Closer now, and it sure didn’t sound like George now, but Sikes responded automatically to the sound of his name. He turned around
and saw a woman, a dark-haired shapely one in a red jacket, a cloth held to her face and her eyes red as a weasel’s.
“What?” he hollered, but she didn’t hear him.
The windows burst inward in showers of glass, all six of them. As the gas began to swirl that way, sucked out by the draft, Sikes froze
“What the holy hell?” he said.
The woman in the red jacket had seen it too, and likewise was riveted.
He couldn’t believe what he was seeing, and wanted to blame it on the effects of the tear gas, the weird lighting, and having just generally
been roughed around. But even that couldn’t explain away the figures jumping down from the sills, and grabbing onto the startled Newcomer
“Matt!” the woman shouted, now in even more urgent alarm.
Another explosion, this one colossal, jolted the hotel. The auditorium chandeliers had already been swinging but now let go, chains
snapping, plummeting in hundreds of pounds of gilt and faux crystal. And the mercs, having herded half a dozen or more Newcomers at
the things that had come in the windows, now whirled to open fire on the crowd.
“Come on!” Sikes damn near yanked the woman’s arm out of the socket as he pulled her, stumbling, after him. A chandelier smashed
down where they’d been, and a hellish glow lit the hall – fire from the latest blast, he figured.
“Hey, let me go, wise guy!” she snapped.
“If you didn’t want my help you shouldn’t have called me!”
There, gleaming in the dim chaos like a mirage, the green and white letters EXIT, with a smaller red sign informing him that it was for
emergencies only. But if this didn’t qualify, Sikes didn’t want to see what did. He slammed through, still with the woman in tow, and both
of them gasped gratefully at the cleaner air.
Stairwell, metal flights leading up and down. But down didn’t look good, as more flames came from there, rolling red waves of heat
baking up the concrete passage. Sikes saw that the woman had a gun of her own, holding it in academy-perfect posture, and jerked his
head up the stairs. She nodded and darted ahead as he climbed backwards, waiting with grim expectation for the door to bang open and
a mercenary with a machine gun to turn him into Swiss cheese.
“What the hell’s going on?” she asked, the words jarred out of her by running steps.
“Beats me! Did you see those … things?”
“Yeah, but … they weren’t gargoyles!”
“So what were they?”
“Beats me!” she threw it back at him with the same frantic incomprehension.
They reached the top of the stairwell and came out into a restaurant considerably posher than the one in the lobby. This one consisted
of white-linen tablecloths on intimate round tables, candles and bud vases on each. A panoramic view that would on a clear day take in Mt.
Ranier and the islands dotting Puget Sound was now framed by a shark’s jaw of broken jags of glass.
“There!” the woman said, pointing.
A bunch of winged shapes were flying away from the building, each with a dangling humanoid figure in their grasp. And there, rising
from the top of the covered breezeway, was a helicopter. The hotel was afire and it was spreading fast, with flame belching out most of
the windows on the three bottom floors. Sirens screamed toward them, and people poured into the street in a panic.
As the helicopter passed close, Sikes saw a familiar face inside, lips compressed tightly in concern.
“Matt!” the woman cried.
“No!” She elbowed him sharply. “Not you! My partner! They’ve got him in the chopper!”
A red-haired, clean-cut, government-agent-looking sort was sitting next to George, both of them being covered by the short guy
he’d seen before. And then the helicopter swung away, banking to follow the winged things. The last image Sikes had was of one of the
black-clad mercenaries holding something that looked like a giant remote control, moving toward the button –
It was a hunch and not a good hunch, but he’d rather be wrong and alive than right and dead. Seizing the woman’s arm again, he
said, “Don’t argue, and I hope you can swim!”
“Swim? Are you –”
‘crazy,’ the logical continuance of her sentence, was drawn out into a shriek as Sikes leapt out the window and took her with him. He
yelled too, more in chagrin that he couldn’t believe he was doing this, who the heck did he think he was, Mel Gibson?
And then the hotel turned into a Roman Candle, a column of flame roaring up through its middle and fireballs geysering out the top.
What few windows hadn’t already shattered did so now as the concussive blast drove them outward.
The same blast pushed Sikes and the woman like a baseball glove of hot air, and he had time to be thankful for it, because he hadn’t
been sure they could clear the edge anyway. The Baywater Hotel was located almost literally on the bay, and they went over the narrow
strip of parklike, manicured grounds complete with meandering pathway for lovers to stroll while taking in the view, and splashed feet-
first into the dark, cold, salty waters of Elliot Bay.
“Andarko!” the Newcomer next to him swore as the
hotel blew up behind them.
Matt Bluestone wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but he was pretty sure he shared the sentiment. Raw horror and rage churned in
his gut. These psychos had destroyed an entire hotel, countless cops and citizens! And overpowering it all was a deep stab of grief and
denial … Elisa had been in there!
“You’re going to pay for this, you bastard!” Matt spat at Billy Vaughn.
He’d recognized him even before he had been ushered into the helicopter and Vaughn had taken off his gas-mask. Had known who
it was almost as soon as he’d clapped eyes to the short figure, waltzing out of the smoke with a machine gun aimed at Matt and the
Newcomer with him.
Hearing someone calling his name, Matt had somehow gotten from the refreshment table – a drink of water to control a laughing fit the
last thing on his mind now – to the source, only to find, coughing and reeling and about to pass out, that it wasn’t Elisa at all. How could
he have mistaken a Newcomer, and a male one at that, for his partner?
But as he’d been there, Billy Vaughn had shown up and said, “Aha, George Francisco. Be sure we get this one,” indicating the
Newcomer. Then, through the faceplate, his eyes had narrowed, fixing on Matt like two blue laser sights. “And him, too.”
“Why him?” one of the others had demanded.
“We can use him,” was the only reply Vaughn gave, and then the windows broke and the creatures had appeared, and then everything
got really wacky.
Because the creatures in the window weren’t gargoyles, and they weren’t Newcomers, but they were big and muscular and bat-winged,
and had bulging spotted bald heads, the pattern running down their backs and along their tails. Their skin was a greenish-greyish-creamish
hue, the spots darker, and upon seeing them, both Matt and the Newcomer named George Francisco were stunned motionless.
Vaughn’s cronies had herded other Newcomer police officers toward the gargoyle-things, but Matt and George had been taken out
another way and loaded into the helicopter. Moments after they cleared the area, one of them had triggered a remote, and the bomb blast
split the night with fire.
“Where are you taking us?” demanded George in a tone of barely-contained fury. “What is the meaning of this insanity?”
“Shaddup, slag,” sneered a hard-faced man.
“Purists. I should have known.”
“On the contrary,” Vaughn said, “we’re trying to help.”
“Is that what you told the clan you destroyed?” Matt said.
“So you remember me, Detective Bluestone.” Vaughn glowered, but smugly. “Told you that you wouldn’t catch me.”
“Egg-thief!” snarled Matt. “Murderer!”
“If you are abducting Newcomers,” said George, “what do you want with him? And what were those … those …”
“Gargoyles,” Matt said venomously. “That’s what you did with the eggs you stole, isn’t it, Vaughn? Gave them to Sevarius, and he
messed with them. Injected them with Newcomer DNA and accelerated their development. Making monsters for fun and profit, business
as usual at the mad scientists’ club.”
Revulsion twisted George Francisco’s face, and several of the other humans looked alarmed at Matt’s conclusion, but Vaughn only
looked grudgingly impressed. “Not bad, Bluestone. How’d you figure it out?”
“Anybody would just by looking at them. What I don’t get is why the raid? And why the bomb? You had your prisoners. Why the
bomb, damn you?”
“You’ll find out the reasons for the raid in due time,” Vaughn said. “As for the bomb, well, we knew what the protesters were planning
and thought it would make a handy diversion … they’ll take all the blame, and no one will know the difference.”
“Except us,” George said.
“But I doubt they’re going to give us much of a chance to tell anyone,” Matt said. “I don’t know what they’ve got in mind for you, or
for me, but it’s probably going to be fatal for us both.”
“I’m most impressed, Doctor Sevarius,” Fhedra said
after the tour, as they relaxed in Sevarius’ office for well-deserved cigars
drinks. Brandy for Sevarius, a nicely chilled and blended sour milk for himself. “But tell me one thing. Why the raid? If you needed
additional Tenctonese subjects to study, you know I could have provided them for you with much less fuss.”
Sevarius inclined his head in acknowledgement. “I’m sure you could have done so, Doctor Leonard, but as you’ve told me before,
the average Tenctonese has held to the timid, obedient mold left over from their slave days.”
“Which is a great part of the problem facing my people, yes,” Fhedra agreed.
“You said yourself that the ones who were able to rise above their conditioning and seek professions that required more initiative
were the ones upon which you wished to model this new breed of warrior. I was able, through some of my military contacts, to obtain
DNA samples of selected Tenctonese in the armed forces, with which to infuse the gargoyle embryos. But I found that, while the military
does foster aggressiveness, it also reinforces obedience through basic training. I thought that perhaps police officers, required to be
assertive but also more mentally agile, might help.”
“You have other eggs, then?” inquired Fhedra. “I was under the impression it was only the six.”
“Oh, it is,” Sevarius said. “I’m hoping to improve the specimens we already have, by means of extracting RNA from the new subjects.”
Fhedra puffed thoughtfully on his cigar, and his high forehead furrowed in a frown. “The flatworm theory?”
“Not theory at all,” Sevarius said with a touch of condescension. “Proven fact, my dear doctor.”
“I meant the theory that it could be applied to higher lifeforms. And doesn’t it mean killing them?”
“Not all of them. I’ll need some kept alive to study. We’ve created a new race, Doctor Leonard, and we can only surmise how
environmental and other various factors will affect them. By having Tenctonese and gargoyles on hand to run cross-tests, we’ll be better
able to maintain our specimens in the peak of health.”
“So I shall have my elite warrior-army,” Fhedra mused in satisfaction.
“As many as you require, once our in vitro program is put into effect.” Sevarius gazed raptly into the distance, his eyes bright. “I cannot
wait to begin the next stage, when we attempt the reverse and introduce gargoyle DNA into Tenctonese pods.”
“These incubators you’ve devised are extraordinary. I cannot tell you how long my people searched for ways to manage it. And the
growth serums! You would have made an excellent Overseer, Doctor.”
“Perhaps,” said Sevarius, swirling his brandy and giving Fhedra a sly smile, “one day I shall be.”
Someone tapped on the door and then opened it, one of Sevarius’ interns. “The acquisition team is returning, sirs. Mr. Vaughn radioed
ahead with news. Everything went precisely as planned, with one exception.”
“I don’t like exceptions, Jeremy,” Sevarius said in a chilly tone.
“He says you’ll like this one … in addition to seven Newcomers, they captured Detective Matthew Bluestone.”
The name meant nothing to Fhedra, but it certainly meant something to Sevarius. “Did they? I don’t suppose his toothsome partner,
the lovely Detective Maza, was with him?”
“Not that Mr. Vaughn mentioned, sir.”
“Very good, Jeremy. Prepare the holding cells, and make sure you have a human-specific sedative at the ready, in case Detective
Bluestone should decide on the path of most resistance.” As the intern left, Sevarius rubbed his hands together briskly, smugly, a peculiarly
avaricious and insectile gesture. “Well, well. Detective Bluestone, indeed!”
“Enlighten me?” hinted Fhedra.
“The leader of Manhattan’s ‘Gargoyle Task Force,’ a ludicrous title if ever there was one, since there are but eight of the beasts in the
entire city – fourteen if you count the clones. But he is valuable in his own way, knowing quite a bit about them and having connections
to some very influential people. He’ll make a good source of information, and could possibly also be used as a bargaining chip … or bait.”
Elisa could only get her teeth to stop chattering
by clenching her jaw achingly tight, and then the shivers that wracked
her made her
whole skull feel like it was vibrating apart. She wrapped herself more tightly in the blanket and huddled against the wall, out of the rain.
Matt Sikes came back carrying a styrofoam cup in each hand, a similar blanked draped over one arm. He was as soaked and disheveled
as she was, water squishing from his shoes with each step. “I guess I was wrong,” he said, handing her a cup. “Told George you couldn’t
get plain black coffee in this town.”
“The rules must change in the wake of a disaster.” Elisa took it and hunched over it, greedily inhaling the steam. “Red Cross blankets
and hot coffee. Kudos to the emergency response teams.”
He hunkered down across from her. “They’re fast, I give them that.”
A few blocks down from where they crouched beside a building, the streets were packed with rescue vehicles, news crews, spotlights,
and onlookers. The smoking shell of the Baywater Hotel was still standing, the final blast having blown out the fires that roared through
the first three floors. It had been that colossal explosion, actually, that saved many lives that would have otherwise been lost to the flames.
In the hectic mess, it had been easy to slip in and get blankets, and if anyone noticed how drenched they were, it was easily blamed
on the worsening rain.
“We should talk to someone, make a statement,” Elisa said. “We witnessed it.”
“Yeah, and spend the next week filing reports and not getting anything done.”
“Right.” She sipped and made a face, understanding that while it was possible to get plain coffee, it was crappy coffee. “The protest
groups are going to get blamed for it, and we don’t have any proof there was anyone else involved.”
“No proof except for a bunch of missing Newcomers, and they’ll lay that one on the Purists. But it doesn’t feel like a Purist stunt.
They’d never take out a hotel full of innocent humans just to get half a dozen Newcomers.” Sikes slammed his fist against the brick wall
and punctuated it with a curse.
“You and your partner, you’re really close, huh?”
“Close? Me and George? Just because he saved my life a bunch of times, and I’ve saved his? Just because I was there for him when
Vessna was born? Yeah, we’re close. He’s not just my partner. He’s my friend. What, does that bother you?”
“No. Why would it?”
“There are plenty of people it does bother. Wanting to know how I can care so much about someone who isn’t even human.”
“I know what you mean.”
“Yeah? Because of your gargoyles? Hey, I hardly think it’s the same thing. Newcomers are citizens, taxpayers. They live and work
right alongside the rest of us. The way I hear it, what you’ve got in New York is a bunch of flying vigilantes. Like Batman. It’s not like
you see them every day on the streets, it’s not like you go to dinner at their house. It’s not like one of them is your partner.”
“How do you know what it’s like?” Elisa said, her shivers forgotten. “I know gargoyles. My boss isn’t some Commissioner Gordon,
flashing the garg-signal into the sky, but I know them. Okay, yeah, I don’t have a gargoyle for a partner, but …” She broke off and flushed,
staring into her cup like she was trying to read the future in coffee grounds.
“But what?” Sikes pressed.
“It’s … personal.”
A knowing gleam lit his eyes. “I think I get it.”
“Do you?” Elisa retorted. “Do you have any idea what it’s like?”
“I have a Newcomer girlfriend. We live together. Her name’s Cathy.”
And looking more closely, Elisa saw something besides that knowing gleam. An understanding … more than that … a commiseration.
“So you do know.”
“Hell, yeah. People talking about you like you’re some kind of freak, wanting to ask all sorts of weird nosy questions about your sex life …”
“Trying to figure out how to tell your parents …”
“But what really matters is …”
“That no matter how different they are …” Elisa said.
Sikes nodded. “You’re in love.”
They studied each other for a long moment, and finally Elisa smiled. “You’re okay, Sikes.”
“You too, Maza. Now, what are we going to do about our partners?”
“What can we do? We’re way out of our jurisdictions here,” she said.
“I’d have a hard time getting more out of my jurisdiction and still be in the continental U.S.”
“Yup, that’s true.”
“And it wouldn’t fall under normal police procedure.”
“That’s three for three,” Sikes said.
Elisa stood up and let the blanket slip from her shoulders. “So we find the bastards, stop them, and we get our partners back.”
“How do you know that man?” George Francisco asked.
Matt Bluestone, who still seemed rather awestruck – but in a delighted, rather than fearful way – by being the only human in a room full
of Tenctonese, tore his gaze away from the tall and striking Officer Trisha Cake with a half-guilty expression. “What?”
“That human. Vaughn.”
The helicopter had landed on a pad atop a building, part of some sort of landscaped complex that resembled a hospital or college
campus. In the distance, across a wide stretch of dark water, the skyline of Seattle had twinkled with light. Shortly after the helicopter
landed, the six winged creatures touched down with their terrified burdens.
Small wonder they were terrified. It had been bad enough for George himself, being safely sealed in the cabin as they flew over Puget
Sound. For the officers, young up-and-coming Tenctonese from a variety of southland precincts, it must have been unspeakable torture.
Carried with feet swinging, hundreds of yards above that cold black surface, knowing that a fall would end in the agonizing, burning,
melting death of the sea.
They were all still pale, their spots contracted with fear, even now that they were indoors, locked away in a cell in some windowless
lab. George, the oldest, had done his best to comfort them with soft encouraging words in their own language, just as he’d once tried to
comfort other children freshly taken from their parents aboard the ship. Just as he hoped others had comforted his children Buck and
Emily, when they’d been taken from him and Susan. Telling each of them to be as brave as he or she or binn could, to have faith in Celine
and Andarko to deliver them from evil, and to make their families proud.
With nothing more to be done for them, George turned his attention to Bluestone in hopes of finding out more about what they faced.
And in hopes of taking his mind off of the other Matthew, his partner. He would have to confront that loss soon enough, but needed to
worry about the living first.
“Vaughn,” he prompted again.
“Billy Vaughn,” Matt said. “He’s been giving us the slip for years, but this is the first I’ve heard of him being into something this big.
Thievery, kidnapping, but not terrorism. Not murder. Unless you count the shattering of five gargoyles as murder. Which the law doesn’t,
George nodded grimly, knowing that many humans still didn’t consider it murder to kill a Newcomer, and they did have laws on their
side. “The eggs you mentioned.”
“Yeah.” Matt ran a hand through his previously-groomed red hair, which now stood up in spikes and whorls. “We heard about
gargoyle sightings in Boston, and the department sent me down to help their police with the investigation. We found the clan all right, a
few hours too late. They were in pieces all over the place, and Billy Vaughn and his team were just loading the last of their eggs into a van.
It turned into a firefight.” He rubbed his upper arm. “I took a bullet, and two of the officers with me were killed. The only one who made
it out unscathed was this dippy kid doing a ride-along as part of a college course. He helped me get a positive I.D. on Vaughn, and it
didn’t take much to figure out he was working for Sevarius. But then we lost his trail. Until now.”
“Anton Sevarius, the geneticist.”
“Anton Sevarius, the mad scientist. He’s been doing illicit cloning and mutagenic experiments for years. It was only a matter of time
until he got interested in you Newcomers.”
George mulled that over while he did yet another sweep of the cell, looking for weaknesses and finding none. It must have been made
with the Tenctonese strength in mind, for not even working in concert could he and the other six officers break out. The walls were thick
Lexan, the floor wired to deliver electrical shocks, and the door a double set with a short hall in between.
Slightly distorted but otherwise clearly visible, he could see the lab through which they’d been led. Along one wall were a bank of
incubators, and to his horror he could see what appeared to be Tenctonese pods, at the stage where they should have been transferred
from mother to father. Opposite their enclosure was a second Lexan cell, and through its walls he could make out a pair of winged shapes
that were different from the ones that had captured them.
“Matt,” he called. “Come here.”
Bluestone joined him, and when he saw where George was pointing, he drew in a sharp breath. “Gargoyles. They must not have
smashed all of the Boston ones. They must have taken those two while they were still asleep, chained them.”
Movement in the lab caught George’s eye. Here came Vaughn, with a couple of his thugs, and behind them walked two men. One
was human, the other a distinguished Tenctonese male whose face George immediately recognized. He made a point of keeping up-to-
date on newsworthy Newcomers, and Doctor Benjamin Leonard had been interviewed in several respectable journals and medical
A wild anger bubbled through George’s veins, a wild and familiar anger. This wasn’t the first time he’d stumbled across a plot involving
a former Overseer, someone who saw his own race as expendable, replaceable cargo. And an Overseer Leonard had to be, because
nothing else could explain that haughty set of his spine, that imperious lift to his chin.
“Kleezantsun\!” he whispered, and the younger officers gathered around him. Most of them would have been barely more than children
on the Day of Descent, and ten years of freedom wouldn’t have expunged the superstition and dread from their hearts.
“So,” said the human in the white lab coat, surveying them with an avid, hungry glee. “What a nice selection! Two females, wonderful!
And that one there, with the larger spots, is a binnaum?”
“Yes,” Leonard said.
“That leaves three males plus this fellow here.” The human tapped the Lexan in front of George’s nose as if it were the glass wall to an
aquarium. “We don’t need all of them.”
“Sevarius!” Bluestone shoved his way to the front, facilitated by the instinctive drawing-away of the Tenctonese. “You’re not getting
away with this, Sevarius!”
“Detective Bluestone, what a pleasure! I don’t believe we’ve ever actually formally met. You’ll pardon me if I don’t shake hands.”
“Knowing where your hands have been, I wouldn’t without asbestos gloves!”
“I see you’ve picked up some of your partner’s more endearing character traits. My condolences, by the way, on Detective Maza’s
death. It truly is most regrettable. I would have much rather had her here than you. I’m sure Goliath would have agreed to anything on
behalf of her safety. We can only hope he and the clan are fond enough of you to be accommodating.”
“I’m not helping you get at the clan.”
“All in due time, Detective,” Sevarius said. “As you can see, I already have a male and a female gargoyle in stock. I don’t need sources
for genetic diversity just yet.”
“How can you betray your own people?” George hissed at Leonard. “You Overseers bow to humans now?”
“I am seeking to help my people,” Leonard replied, unruffled. “In fact, Francisco … or would you prefer Stangya? I myself prefer to
be known as Fhedra, at least among our own kind. I was hoping to convince you to cooperate. You see, the philosophy and the duty of
the kleezantsun\ was always to recruit from among the strongest, most able, most superior of our race. Compared to the humans especially,
we are all strong, able, and superior. We should all be Overseers to them. But it will take visionaries and good examples to lead the way.”
In his rage, George resorted to language he would never have used in front of his children. “Eat salt, you mother-humming spot-licker!”
“Typical,” Leonard said, rolling his eyes. “Carry on, Doctor Sevarius.”
“Shall we begin with him?”
“No … not just yet. He is a Newcomer of some influence in Los Angeles, and I would still hope to persuade him to see things my way.
Take one of the other gannaum-ta.”
“Come in here, tert,” snarled Officer Cake as Vaughn opened the exterior door, “and they’ll take you out in a bag.” The others murmured
their agreement, Bluestone included.
“Oh really?” asked Anton Sevarius, and threw a switch.
Lightning leaped up from the floor, great stunning arcs of it that galvanized them and forced unbidden shrieks from their throats. When it
ended, all of them were crumpled, moaning, unable to make their limbs respond to the scrambled commands of their brains. As they twitched
and shook, Vaughn and his helpers rushed in, seized a gannaum – Officer Andy Griffith, to whose graduating class George had spoken –
and dragged him out. By the time any of them could regain their footing, they had taken him out of sight.
“If you’re so intent on helping your people,” Bluestone said, leaning against the Lexan dizzily but locking his eyes on Leonard, “how do
you explain this?”
“If we’re to conquer this world,” Leonard said, “we’ll need an army. And every army needs air support. You humans are weak and soft.
It is only sensible that the two strongest races on this blighted mudball join together to dominate you.”
“The gargoyles will never join you.”
“If they don’t, they’ll suffer the same fate as the humans. Our new breed of warriors is superior in many ways to both gargoyle and
Tenctonese. They don’t turn to stone, they aren’t harmed by salt, they are immune to almost any disease or chemical.”
“I can’t believe how stupid you two are,” said Bluestone. “Didn’t you and Xanatos learn anything from the Thailog Project, Sevarius? No
pearls of wisdom about not creating anything more powerful than you? Didn’t you ever read Frankenstein? You think these things, these
things you make in a lab, are going to be grateful to you. That they’ll serve you. But eventually, they’ll rebel.”
Sevarius and Leonard just laughed together, the mocking, how-little-they-know laugh that their kind always seemed to possess. It made
George yearn to sock both fists into the nerve clusters under Leonard’s arms and leave him wheezing and convulsing on the floor.
He was not to have the opportunity, because, still laughing, the two doctors turned and walked off, in the same direction that Vaughn
had taken the unfortunate Officer Griffith.
In the passenger seat, Elisa jumped like she’d been
Sikes, behind the wheel of a car he’d adeptly hot-wired from the hotel parking lot – under the circumstances, it would probably be a
long time before anyone reported it stolen, if the owner was even still alive – looked over at her. “Who?”
“He’s the one behind it, he’s got to be! What we saw weren’t gargoyles, and they weren’t Newcomers, but they were something in
between. And the eggs! Dammit!” She whacked herself in the forehead, which was a change of pace for Sikes; usually he was the one
hitting stuff while driving. “Billy Vaughn! It was him in the limo! I wasn’t with Matt in Boston, but I saw what the sketch artist came up
with. Same guy!”
“Billy Vaughn?” The back of Sikes’ neck prickled. “Short, tough little bastard?”
“You know him?”
“Suspect in a series of kidnappings we had about a year ago. He broke into Mt. Andarko Hospital and stole four pods from the neonatal
intensive care unit. We never got him.”
“He works for Sevarius, and there’s nothing on God’s green earth that Anton Sevarius likes better than turning things into other things.”
“Okay, what limo? Where?”
“At the airport. He was …” Her dark eyes widened. “He was picking up Benjamin Leonard.”
“The Newcomer scientist. You think he’s in on it with this Sevarius?”
“I’d stake my life on it.”
“Yeah, fine, good, but it’s our partners’ lives we’re staking. How do we find these guys?”
At the sight of a lighted sign ahead, inspiration dawned. Elisa smiled. “Let’s stop for coffee.”
“We had something similar on the ship,” Fhedra remarked
as Officer Griffith’s corpse was lowered into a bubbling tank. “Recycling
vats, to remove the proteins from the dead for use in the gardens. Always highly beneficial for the meatgrowths.”
“In this case,” Sevarius said, “the chemical bath will strip away all the unnecessary residues, and we’ll be left with concentrated RNA.
Fed to the warriors, it will enhance their skills and increase their mental acuity.”
“But they will still obey us?” Detective Bluestone’s words had burrowed into Fhedra’s mind and lurked there like beetles. “We’re not
encouraging them to turn against us?”
“Hardly,” scoffed Sevarius. “I’ve refined my techniques since the Thailog Project, and that was an exceptional case to begin with.”
Hours passed as Griffith’s body slowly broke down, dissolving and composting until at last all that remained was a fine-grained meaty
paste. Sevarius, whistling to himself, scraped it into a stainless-steel dish. Leonard trailed after him in fascination into the quarters where
the winged warriors were housed.
It was nearly morning, and Billy Vaughn rubbed
at his grainy eyes as he emerged onto the patio for a smoke. Sheltered
by an overhang
and surrounded by potted evergreens, it was a pleasant enough place but he still didn’t like having to go outside. It really sucked whenever
he thought about the bigshot docs, kicking back puffing on cigars in Sevarius’ private office, but as the smirking geneticist was always so
happy to remind him, who was in charge around here anyway?
When his cigarette was down to the filter, Vaughn petulantly pitched it onto the ground and stubbed it out with his toe, ignoring the sand-
filled ashtrays. He started for the door, but halted at the sight of two people standing between him and it. Even as the words, “who the hell
are you?” began to form on his lips, the scruffy man in the brown leather jacket pistoned a neat, hard punch into Vaughn’s nose.
He reeled back, going for his gun, but then the woman thrust the barrel of hers under his chin.
“Ah-ah-ah, Billy,” she said. “Not tonight.”
She fished the gun from his holster and tossed it to the man. Vaughn slowly raised his hands, watching them both warily and trying not to
look like a threat, waiting for a chance …
The woman stepped back, preparing to gesture him toward the door, and he moved. Fast. A twist of the wrist snapped seven inches of
blade into one hand, and with the other he grabbed her arm, bent it behind her so that her own gun was jammed into the small of her back,
and held the knife to her throat.
“Drobbit!” he said to the man, trying not to gag on the blood that was oozing from his ruptured nose. To make sure the guy understood,
he poked the tip of the knife until it had drawn a welling red bead from the woman’s neck, and they both heard her hissing gasp.
“It’s over, Billy,” the man said. “We know everything, and it ends now.”
“Doh chadce. Drobbit, I said. Add you, you bidge, if you shoot, you’re gudda blow your owd guds oud. So drobbit! Dow!”
The woman let go of her gun and it fell on Vaughn’s foot. It didn’t hurt, but he instinctively shoved her away and leapt back, expecting it
to go off and shatter his ankle into shards of bone. As soon as she felt him let go, the woman pivoted neatly and drove the heel of her hand
into his already abused nose, eliciting a foggy hoot of pain.
Her pal in the leather jacket tackled Vaughn. The knife went flying as the two of them slammed into a potted evergreen. The heavy pot
went over and broke apart, spilling damp loose soil and dumping the evergreen itself on top of the struggling pair.
Vaughn got in one good lick, blacking the man’s eye for sure, but then he took a third hit to the nose and his vision blurred from agony.
He swung, missed, and then his head was snared in double handfuls of hair and pounded smartly against the concrete.
“Aren’t they magnificent?” Sevarius gloated as he
slid trays containing food mixed with the remains of Officer Griffith through
the bottom of each cage.
Privately, Fhedra thought they were repulsive. Their coloring looked gangrenous, and the way their legs were deformed so that they
could only stand in a toe-balanced crouch was both bestial and disturbing. And their heads were misshapen … the foreheads bulging into
bizarre bumpy ridges. But they did look powerful, and they had proven themselves.
They would be welcome additions to his force, and by the docile, humble way they shuffled forth when Sevarius presented them with
their dinner, he’d spoken the truth about their obedience.
“Doctor Sevarius! Doctor Sevarius!”
“What is it now, Jeremy?”
“Mr. Vaughn! I just found him on the smoking deck!”
“When isn’t he? But you, Jeremy? It’s a filthy habit --”
“No, he’s been beaten up!” the intern reported, pasty and wide-eyed in his anxiousness. “I think someone broke in! We’ve got to get
out of here! We’ve got to hide the subjects!”
“We shall do no such thing,” Sevarius said. “I’m sure our friend Detective Bluestone would say this was appropriate, a mob of pitchfork-
wielding peasants at the gates, but we have taken more than adequate security measures --”
A klaxon began to blare, and even in his growing terror, a small mirthless told-you-so grin flicked across Jeremy’s face.
“Oh, perfect!” Sevarius stalked from the lab. “I’ll handle this. Leonard, you and Jeremy keep an eye on things here, until I’ve found out
where Mr. Vaughn and his people are.”
But the same guilty hysteria that had gripped Jeremy must have affected the rest as well, for no sooner had Sevarius left the room than
Vaughn’s black-clad mercenaries rushed in, armed to the teeth.
“We have to evacuate, now!” one of them ordered. “The police are here!”
“What about the subjects?” Leonard refused to give in to this wildfire panic. He drew himself tall and sought a commanding pose.
Which lasted until a large, clawed, grey-green-pink hand shot through the bars of the cage and closed around his neck, yanking him
backward. His skull rang off metal and a primitive, maddened roar erupted beside his ear.
The noise of the alarms was driving the warriors into a frenzy, and with their own adrenaline already coursing at flood tide, the humans
The burst of machine-gun fire undercut the klaxons in a rattling thunder. Sparks flew as bullets struck the bars, and the new breed screamed
and threw themselves around their cages, seeking escape from the thousands of rounds of searing lead.
“No!” Leonard attempted to cry, being half-choked by the relentless claws at his neck.
But his protest went unheard, and he had no chance to make another. His throat parted under those claws, and he felt his blood gush in
a pinkish torrent, pumped out of him by his frantically-beating hearts.
“Be ready,” George Francisco said as the gunfire
ceased, but the alarms wailed on and on.
They had all seen Sevarius’ rapid exit, and the mercenaries running into the adjoining room. The dying screams of the strange winged
warriors had grated on their ears like broken glass, and Matt Bluestone saw pained grief in the eyes of his cellmates – whatever else the
creatures may have been, they were part Newcomer, and for that they would be mourned.
“Be ready for what?” Matt asked. “To be riddled with bullets?”
“If we must,” George replied with a serenity that Matt envied.
The humans came back into the lab, chests heaving, many of them liberally splattered with pink stuff. One of them, a young guy in a lab
coat, was pleading with them, yelling at them, telling them they had to get out before they were discovered, had to get the evidence out
“Destroy the evidence, you mean!” said one of the mercs, fixing his gaze feverishly on the prisoners in the cell. “We’ll take these ones;
Carson, you take the gargs. If they’re not stone already, strafe ‘em; if they are, get a sledgehammer. Fontaine, you and Doctor Junior here
deal with what’s in the incubator. Davies, open it up.”
As the cell doors opened and the mercenaries readied their machine guns, Officer Cake lunged past Matt and George. Shrieking in
absolute fury, she kept on going even when two of them opened up on her, and momentum carried her onto them. With her last bit of
flagging strength, she jerked one’s head to the side, and the man flopped with his neck bent at an unnatural angle and eyes already glazing.
Her sacrifice hadn’t gone in vain; as the rest of them were firing on her, George, with an expression that was both anguished and
unutterably proud, led them in a charge. Five Newcomers and one human hit the remaining mercenaries like the offensive line of the Dallas
Cowboys. It devolved immediately into a free-for-all brawl.
Matt, wresting a machine gun away and bashing the stock into someone’s temple, saw that Carson had just been unlocking the cell that
held the gargoyles when he was distracted by the turmoil behind him; a moss-green female and a blue-grey male wasted no time in springing
out and flattening him with strike after strike from their fists and tails. Fontaine, in the incubator room, gaped through the windows and then
fled out another door, the intern hot on her heels.
When it was over, when he was the only human left standing in the room (and pressing a palm to his side, where he’d been gouged by a
Bowie knife in a wound that was probably worse than it felt, because he wasn’t letting himself think about it or notice the hot seeping of his
own blood), Matt Bluestone thought the ringing in his ears had drowned out the peal of the alarms. Then he realized the alarms had stopped,
though the ringing went on.
One of the Newcomer males was dead, having been nearly decapitated by a burst at close range. When the guns had run out, the mercs
had drawn knives, as Matt knew all too well, and another of these had pierced deep into Detective Grace Land’s chest. It was still stuck
there, puncturing one of her hearts.
The other Newcomers and the gargoyles, working together without even bothering to gawk at one another, turned a tabletop into a litter
for Grace. With George and Matt leading the way, having taken the time to collect weapons and reload them from the dead mercenaries,
the group of them prepared to find a way out.
They had heard the intern’s bleating about protesters, and knew they’d find as much welcome there as they would from any more of
Vaughn’s people they might run into, so Matt’s hopes were dim of getting out of this at all.
He and George had gotten well ahead of the others, at the end of a long hall, when Matt’s skin prickled. He held up a hand and George
stopped, sensing it too. Someone was just around the corner, waiting for them. Lying in wait. The tension was so thick in the air, Matt could
almost see it. Together, he and George inched closer, meaning to leap around and give whoever it was a big – if short-lived – surprise.
“Now!” Matt mouthed, and they moved.
Fast as a striking snake, around the corner with weapons outthrust, and there were two people there, also jabbing guns at them, all four
of them face to face, about to shoot.
As Matt’s finger tightened on the trigger, some internal sentry woke up in the nick of time …
And with great sobbing laughs of relief, he and George threw down the guns and embraced their partners.
It didn’t always rain in Seattle.
On the day that the memorial service was held for those slain three weeks earlier in the Baywater Bombing, the sky was solid blue from
horizon to horizon. Brightness sparkled on the buttons of dress uniforms of thousands of law enforcement officials from around the country.
Elisa Maza moved through the crowd, murmuring greetings to those who spoke to her. In a somber black dress and sensible low heels,
the nick on her throat faded to a thin white scar, she knew she looked much less unmarked by the ordeal than she felt.
She joined George Francisco and Matt Sikes, the former looking quite at home in a suit while the latter looked as if he’d be more
comfortable wearing anything else. They were at the midst of a sizeable group of Newcomers and L.A. cops.
“Hey, guys,” she said, voice pitched low.
“Hey,” responded Sikes with a lopsided grin. He had one arm around the waist of a slender, gorgeous Newcomer woman, and the
other hand resting on the shoulder of a child whose scalp-spots showed through the fine blond hair that fell past her ear-valleys.
Seeing them together, their strange family, made Elisa more than a little wistful. True, Aalice wasn’t their biological child, wasn’t really
part Newcomer at all, just a human orphan who had been given cosmetic surgery by a scientist of similar ambition to Sevarius, but she
had features of both races, and felt at home with her mixed parents.
“Elisa,” George said warmly. “How is Matthew?”
“Recovering. He says they should let him out of the hospital by the end of the week, and then he’ll be flying home to New York.” Matt
Bluestone, having required surgery to repair a perforated kidney, was still in Harborview Medical Center.
“And how are you doing?” George’s attractive wife Susan asked, shifting little Vessna to her other hip as the toddler squirmed to be set
“Okay,” Elisa said. “The new additions to the clan are settling in nicely. I think the trio was a little disappointed that they were already
a mated pair, but Angela sounds glad to have another female around.”
“Anything on Sevarius?” Sikes asked.
Elisa shook her head. With Matt in the hospital, she’d stayed in Seattle at Captain Chavez’s insistence, while Sikes and Francisco had
been allowed to fly home after a few days. She’d done her best to help unravel the mysteries of what had gone on in that building and in
the hotel, and the decimated Seattle P.D. had been glad of the help even if they hadn’t exactly expressed pleasure at her methods.
The Online Café, on the other hand, was so thrilled to learn that the two detectives had made use of their very own coffeehouse
computers to log on and find all the info they needed to track down Sevarius, had given Elisa and Sikes each a card good for a lifetime’s
Vaughn was behind bars, once he’d recovered from the concussion he’d gotten when Sikes beat his head into the ground, and the
intern and surviving mercenary, Fontaine, were with him. They had confessed willingly enough once they understood the extent of the
trouble they were in. But of the wily, eel-slippery Sevarius, there was no word.
“Gone,” she said. “But I know we haven’t seen the last of him.”
“Shh!” the teenage Emily Francisco cautioned. “They’re starting.”
As ‘Taps’ began to play, human and Newcomer alike fell silent, and the sunlight turned tear-tracks to runnels of gold beneath the clear