Quentin Black Mystery #13
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“It’s doing something,” the boatman said, hooking a thumb towards the shed. “It’s bad enough when it was just a dead body, man. Now, it’s like… doing things.”
“Doing things?” Black stared at him, his rich, drunk-guy schtick forgotten. “It’s a dead body. What could it possibly be doing?”
Miri just wanted a vacation… a little alone-time with her mate.
After months of separation, after Black’s struggles with his recent “transformation,” after Miri doing her part, ridding the world of evil, including her crazy uncle and his dreams of enslaving the human race, she really just wanted to hang in Hawaii with Black and drink mai tais out of pineapples.
But not a day passes before the body of a strange soldier washes up on shore, a body whose very existence raises disturbing questions, and not only because he’s part machine.
When an old friend asks Black to find answers, Black reluctantly agrees, even as paparazzi hound Black and Miri’s every move, making it impossible to blend with the other rich celebrities at the exclusive resort where they’re staying.
Then more soldiers show up, alive ones this time.
Black discovers something more sinister at work, putting him and Miri in the crosshairs once again.
BLACK HAWAII is book thirteen in the QUENTIN BLACK MYSTERY series, a paranormal mystery series starring brilliant but dangerous psychic detective, Quentin Black, and his partner, forensic psychologist Miri Fox. It’s also a spinoff of the BRIDGE & SWORD SERIES.
“IS IT VERIFIED?” the seer snapped, his voice hard as he spoke into the comm. “They definitely have both of them? Lucky and his lead infiltrator, Jalisa?”
“Confirmed,” the voice said. “Both of them. One after the other.”
There was a silence.
In it, Tahi stared down at the monitor, his jaw hard.
The voice of the seer on the other end of the line grew more subdued.
“The construct is failing, sir––”
“I can feel that,” Tahi growled, cutting him off. “Tell me something I don’t know. Something that will help me to stop this… at least long enough for us to find Charles.”
That one was briefer.
“They have no idea how it happened, sir,” the infiltrator said, now sounding apologetic. “All report visuals of the wife appearing just prior to our people being taken. She appears next to a predetermined target… then both of them just vanish. Of course, for all we know, the visuals themselves are some trick, akin to the dragon seen in California––”
“And you’re positive more of our people have been disappeared in this way?”
There was a silence.
In it, Tahi gazed over the West Wing bullpen he could see just outside his office door. He watched it via the Barrier, the nonphysical space utilized by seers, using that space to track the work of his underlings. Those underlings had been assigned to him nominally by the human president, but Tahi knew it had really been Charles.
Tahi watched seers and humans rush around as they shared drone and satellite footage, fighting to get around the encryption to Black’s systems, both satellite feeds and his networks back in California.
So far, they hadn’t had much luck.
Even working late into the night, like now––like they had been for days, weeks––it wasn’t enough.
Black must have better-than-decent tech expertise among his seers, possibly even among his humans. He’d managed to thwart every attempt at hacking, often using Tahi’s team’s probes as a means of going after their own systems, here in the West Wing.
More critically, Black’s team had gone after theirs in the Pentagon, where the bulk of these operations occurred. The group Tahi oversaw more triaged and supported the real infiltration work conducted out of human military and intelligence.
It would take decades to update these clunky government computer systems well enough to operate at even a fraction of what Tahi deemed “acceptable” compared to what he’d known on Old Earth. Everything here was medieval in comparison, despite the dates lining up almost exactly to the corresponding dates on Old Earth.
The difference was seers.
Vampires hadn’t contributed much to technological advancement on this version of Earth, from what Tahi could tell.
On Old Earth, the one where Tahi was born, seers advanced tech so rapidly, human governments grew alarmed. Starting in the mid-Twentieth Century of that world, the human oversight authorities actually banned many of the tech gadgets and practical applications of organic tech designed by seer scientists. They followed that by restricting and regulating the research and design facilities that created them––not to mention the seer scientists themselves.
Seer scientists were no longer allowed to work alone.
They could work only under special licenses, directly overseen by humans.
They became the property of the human labs that employed them––not exactly an incentive to work harder, smarter, or faster, particularly when humans seemed to primarily want seer tech as a means of non-human oppression and control.
The seer on the other end of the line sighed, pulling Tahi’s attention back to them.
“Confidence is high, sir. Very high,” he said, grim. “…On the number of disappearances. They’re still occurring, sir. We have eye-witness reports on three more in the last half-hour: Mulki, Dresden, and Shana. A growing number of others are missing or nonresponsive. All reports come from verified sources. All of those targeted are highly-ranked operatives. We only have video documentation for a handful of those, including Mulki, but I’ve seen the footage, sir. It’s definitely the same phenomenon––”
“You’re certain as to the person abducting them? You’re certain it was––”
“No,” the other seer said at once, making a slashing motion in the air with one hand, one visible through the VR interface. “We are not certain, sir. We have been unable to track this phenomenon in the Barrier with any amount of accuracy. After the debacle at the border, none are willing to take the visuals at face value––”
“But based on the visuals, they all definitely indicate this person, correct?”
The seer hesitated.
Then, seeming to think about the question, he nodded, his dark red and green-flecked eyes shining in a light on the other side of the line.
“Yes. The individual who appears to be behind it remains absolutely consistent, sir. Obviously, at the very least, the usurper and his people would like us to believe this person is responsible… but that does not make it so, as we have learned.”
There was another pause.
“…And yet,” the seer admitted with a seer’s Old World shrug. “We can think of no obvious motive for them pushing this narrative. Up until now, he’s been extremely protective of his wife. He’s downplayed her abilities, rather than the reverse.”
“Do we have visual confirmation, at least?” Tahi said, frowning. “Of her, I mean. Is that all from on-hand testimony? Or is her actual face caught in those instances where there is recorded surveillance?”
The other seer gestured another “yes” in seer, if more reluctantly.
“Yes, sir. Facial-rec and my own eyes confirmed that much… it was definitely Dr. Fox. In all cases, including those critical first two, Dr. Fox appeared, naked, in close physical proximity to her target. On the drone footage, she appeared less than two feet from Mulki while he was directing operations by the border wall. From the footage, she appeared to touch him. In less than a second, both she and Mulki disappeared… leaving his clothes behind.”
“How many are missing in total?” Tahi frowned. “I know you cannot confirm all of them, brother, but what is the number? How many, including those unconfirmed?”
“Somewhere in the neighborhood of three dozen now, sir.”
There was a silence.
“All seers?” Tahi said next.
“All seers, sir.”
“Who’s left?” Tahi’s voice grew harder. “What is the chain of command now?”
There was a silence.
“I’m sorry, sir?”
“Who’s in charge?” Tahi snapped. “Who is running operations, with Charles gone?”
“Sir… you are, sir.” The male infiltrator sounded confused. “I’m sorry. I thought you knew. We were directed to you as the new head of overall operations––”
“Me?” Tahi frowned. “How is that possible? What about Var? Emmerich?”
“We haven’t been able to get ahold of either of them, sir.”
Tahi stared into the row of virtual screens in front of him without seeing any of them.
Via the Barrier, he watched the seers working at virtual and hardware stations on the other side of his office door. He could see the inward focus of their eyes, the barely-perceptible movements of their lips as they spoke to those in cubicles next to them, even as they used sub-vocals to speak with team members not currently on site.
He felt them trying to use the contruct to coordinate.
But something was off.
The well-oiled machine jumped and started, stopped and jerked.
Tahi felt the instability there… a kind of virus running through its veins.
The network seemed to shudder, even as he thought it.
Tahi understood. He knew the fundamentals of construct creation. All nonphysical networks needed more than simply a firm grounding in the physical world. Constructs needed a “head,” that person who made up the apex of the Pyramid.
With Charles gone, they’d lost their head.
They’d lost their apex––the guiding principle behind the network.
That loss threw the entire network into a state of confusion.
Consciously or not, it threw them all sideways, off-balance.
Tahi fought to think, even as he felt another shudder in the nonphysical structure. For the first time, he noticed the construct trying to reconfigure itself around him, with Tahi himself as “head,” the one sitting in that apex chair.
Realizing the male infiltrator was right, that he was in command now, he immediately began downloading the information coming to him from other areas of the construct.
It was sheer chaos.
His living light, or aleimi, fought to adjust.
He fought to hold up the pyramid-like structure.
But Tahi wasn’t Charles.
He didn’t have Charles’ structure, his know-how, his vision.
He didn’t have his raw ability, either in working rank… or even in potential.
The construct shuddered again as he thought it.
The maze of threads and connecting points, what they’d used to control everything and everyone since Charles seized control of the human government––it all seemed to be in freefall. From his new vantage point, Tahi could feel individual network seers, even those at the higher levels of the structure, reacting to that loss of control.
Some of them, even seers of whom Tahi never would have suspected such a thing, were already succumbing to full-blown panic.
They didn’t have a contingency plan for this.
No contingency existed for any of this.
Refocusing out the window of his West Wing office, Tahi fought with what to do.
Black was gone.
They had no idea where.
He could not be used as leverage against his wife, not any longer.
They’d tried to capture him, alive, during that final fight down at the border, the one Mulki had been leading, but Black escaped, just before this nightmare began.
The usurper slipped free… likely also due to his wife.
Charles had warned them.
He’d warned them what a grave danger his niece posed.
Now, it appeared, that danger had come to pass.
The rumors about Black’s wife, Dr. Miriam Fox, proved to be true.
Tahi finally understood––now, when it was too late––why Charles had been so adamant about capturing Miriam first, why he’d so badly wanted her husband alive, when capturing Miri herself proved impossible. Tahi understood why Charles remained fixated on his niece, even proposing that they torture her husband to get her to turn herself in.
In this, as in so many things, Charles’ vision bordered on prescient.
Charles saw the risk, just as he foresaw so many things.
He warned them.
And now it was too late.
Tahi fought to think, staring out at the midnight view of the White House lawn and gardens. He glimpsed a Secret Service agent as they walked past, making the rounds of the outside of the building.
Checking his watch, Tahi frowned again.
The President would be asleep by now.
There was some chance he’d be up, watching the feeds of the ongoing conflict at the border as vampires continued to flee into the United States… but Tahi had his doubts.
In any case, he wouldn’t inform him.
Not until morning.
It wasn’t likely human President Bradford Regent would understand these new developments anyway, even if Tahi did tell him, even if he explained them in detail… which Tahi definitely would not.
Regent was human, and therefore wholly incapable of helping Tahi with this disaster. Not only that, Regent happened to be a particularly stupid human.
That particular trait of Regent’s had been useful in some ways, of course.
Manipulating Regent had been painfully easy, making him the perfect front for their operation. For a seer at Charles’ level, Regent himself barely merited consideration as a sentient being; rather, he functioned more as one piece on a complex chessboard.
Charles confided to Tahi that he’d barely had to push Regent directly at all to get him to play his part… which Tahi believed, since he guessed a Sark child could likely push Regent into compliance without breaking a sweat.
As one who worked alongside him in the White House, Tahi found Regent’s stupidity annoying as hell at times.
Like now. Regent was more or less useless in a crisis.
He was useless, even a liability, in any situation where having a human leader who could actually think might have been a real asset.
Tahi checked his watch again, frowning.
He was running out of time.
He could feel it. He could feel the spotlight on him, the target aligning on his chest, in his new position as head of the construct. He could feel how visible he was.
After the barest pause, still staring out the window at the dark grounds of the most famous residence in the world, he picked up the phone.
He hit through a key sequence for one of the most secure lines in the Pentagon.
“Simon Chu here,” a calm voice said.
Tahi didn’t bother with a greeting.
“Are any of them working yet?” he said. “I need to know. Now.”
There was a silence.
“How do you have access to this––”
“I’m in charge now,” Tahi said.
His voice cut a hard path through the other’s. He noted his accent resurfaced as well, coloring his words in a way that would have been difficult to identify for most of the denizens of this world, yet would have outed him as a seer in most parts of Old Earth.
“Lucky’s out,” Tahi added. “Jalisa is out. We’ve lost Mulki, Dresden, Shana. There’s a good chance we’ve lost Var and Emmerich.”
The calm in the other’s voice tremored.
It was enough that Tahi heard it.
“The female? Black’s wife?”
“How verified is that?”
“It is verified enough,” Tahi said.
“Who is left? If we’ve lost all of our senior––”
“Me,” Tahi interrupted. “You’ve got me.” Pausing, he felt his jaw harden as his own words sank in. “…although I don’t know for how much longer. I’m assuming the construct around the White House is buying those of us here some time.”
Letting that sink in, he hardened his voice.
“…Do you have any working yet? Or not? I must know now.”
The silence stretched longer.
Tahi could almost hear the other seer thinking, even with the intense shields around the bunker-like labs where Chu worked.
It struck Tahi that his changed status within the construct gave him more access to everything. That didn’t just mean the secondary, security constructs of the labs and other restricted, need-to-know areas––but the actual minds of his fellow seers with whom he shared the Barrier network.
He was still thinking about that, noticing he could feel the presences and minds of other seers working in Chu’s lab, when Chu’s voice returned, eerily calm.
“We have three dozen of the latest iteration. Possibly four… if you include those in various stages of the testing phase. Maybe two of those three dozen who are more or less stable. The newest phase isn’t ready yet. We had our timetables moved up, but we’re still struggling with elements of the interface. Many of the subjects still die before––”
“Could they be activated? Now, I mean. Those of the prototypes that more or less work. If you had to do it quickly––”
In his mind, Tahi saw the seer’s eyebrows rise to the middle of his forehead.
“Activated how?” Chu said. “With what target?”
“What target?” Gordon let out a disbelieving sound. “Are you fucking serious right now, brother?”
The other grew flustered.
“I just mean… we have no location track. We have nothing. We can’t even track her through the Barrier, even using Charles’ markers. She completely disappears, every time she conducts one of those––”
“She has to stop sometime,” Tahi cut in.
Feeling the other’s doubt through the construct, he made his voice cold, uncompromising. “We’re at war, brother. A war we’re losing, by the way… as of about three hours ago. They are overthrowing us as we speak. They took our damned leader right out from under us.”
“Do you?” Tahi snapped. “Then answer the damned question.”
There was a longer silence.
“Are you authorizing me to––”
“Authorizing?” Tahi cut in. “I’m ordering you to activate the assets, to operationalize them for defense. Consider this me giving you the green light for a full-blow field test, as of now. Run the voice code on me, if you need to… the construct should have changed my security access by now, even down to the organic machines where you are.”
There was another silence.
In it, Tahi realized Chu had already run his light credentials.
Chu wouldn’t be talking to him at all, if Tahi’s claims hadn’t been verified already by the security construct in the lab where he worked.
In fact, the more he thought about it, the more Tahi realized Chu probably ran his creds before he picked up the phone.
Chu took his job seriously.
He was by the book, all the way. It was a good trait to have, given his position. It was also a large part of why Charles entrusted Chu with running those labs, in addition to the older seer’s extraordinary light-structure and brain.
If Tahi hadn’t checked out, he’d likely be under his own desk by now, bleeding through the eyes, nose, and ears from a heavy dose of electrified Barrier venom dumped from the construct inside the White House. The combined load likely would have broken half the structures in Tahi’s aleimi… assuming it didn’t kill him outright.
Tahi knew every bit of that was protocol, that Chu would have been right to do it, but his jaw clenched at the thought, anyway.
Charles could be a cold-hearted son of a bitch.
He also ruled with an iron fist.
Now, with Charles gone, Tahi could feel Chu doubting, hesitating.
He could feel confusion, misgiving on the other seer.
He could even empathize.
“It might be our last chance,” Tahi spoke into that quiet. “I know it’s risky, Chu, but it’s our last line of defense. It might be the only way left to save our people…”
Trailing, thinking about this, Tahi gave a seer’s shrug.
“Well, that’s assuming she and Black have them locked up somewhere, and Dr. Fox didn’t just rematerialize with them in space, or toss them out of this dimension totally––”
“They’re unstable,” Chu broke in, his voice actively tense. “Even the best-working ones aren’t reliable yet. We can’t predict with absolute certainty what they’ll do, particularly without direction. If faced with circumstances we can in no way control––”
Realizing he did understand, Tahi frowned, his lips pressed together.
“…If you have another scenario, a better one, I’m all ears, Chu,” he added.
A warning went off in his headset.
Tahi had left the organic machine on in the background while using his Chief of Staff’s secure office phone.
In a corner section of his virtual monitor, a secondary screen rose up.
On it, text scrolled, along with headshots of three seers Tahi recognized.
Three more of theirs down.
Mauria, Robin and Nurai could no longer be located.
That new seer, Elan Raven, had also disappeared.
“We’re out of time,” Tahi said, his voice sharpening as he focused back on the seer on the phone. “She’s still taking people, Chu. Can you activate them? Or not?”
“I can,” Chu said.
“Then do it. Tell only who you have to.”
“Good. And Chu… you might need to have a failsafe on the oversight controls.”
“Just rig something up, would you? If they take you and the rest of the lab…”
His voice faltered as he felt something shift in the room.
The hairs on his arms and the back of his neck stood up.
Tahi rose with them, regaining his feet even as he hit an emergency pulse on his headset. His eyes darted to the window, then back to the door of the office.
He stopped breathing, listening with every molecule of his being.
When he couldn’t hear anything, couldn’t feel or see anything at all with his aleimi, or with his physical eyes, he swallowed.
The sound of that swallow was deafening to his ears.
He was being ridiculous.
He still had time.
He had to still have some time… she’d only just taken those last three targets.
There was nothing there.
The few staffers he could feel twanging the edges of the construct on the other side of the door were mostly human. He could feel the seer techs working from a quieter, more still space, lost inside their virtual headsets. He felt Secret Service agents patrolling, the cleaners making their way from the main residence into this part of the building. The normal, late-night sounds he heard most nights might have been more amplified than usual, more frenetic… but they fell within what he would consider “normal,” at least under the circumstances.
All this talk of Miriam Fox and her quasi-mystical powers had the whole network in a state of irrational panic.
There was a rational explanation.
There had to be a rational explanation.
Staring fixedly at the door, Tahi tried to shake it off.
He walked slowly around his desk, fighting to move purposefully, to force his body to act normally. He continued listening with his light, stretching deeper into the construct that covered this whole side of the West Wing.
Chu, clearly not feeling the shift Tahi reacted to, continued to talk.
“…I guess I’m not entirely sure what you mean by failsafe, sir. Are you concerned about one of our prototypes being recovered? Or is your concern more about having a backup means of controlling them, in the event––”
But Tahi heard him that time.
“What is my concern about?” he broke in, incredulous. “What is my concern? Are you serious right now, brother Chu?”
The other fell silent
Tahi snapped, “My concern is having someone or something to protect us, brother, in the event we can’t recover Charles. My concern is having some final line of defense, in the event our entire fucking leadership team is wiped out. What about that is confusing to you, brother? It’s not like you don’t have adequate security clearance to know we’re up against––”
Just then, she was there.
His words cut off, unconscious… abrupt.
He stared at her.
Long, nearly-black hair.
Pale hazel eyes. They glowed at him, whispering… flickering around the rings of her irises like a sparking, golden-green flame.
Like in the drone footage Gordon saw, she was stark naked.
She stood in front of him, panting lightly, a faint sheen of sweat on her face. The expression etched into her features struck him as dangerous, holding an intensity that made him flinch back, even before she reached for him…
Her fingers circled his wrist.
A hard pressure hit at his chest.
That pressure suffocated him.
It crushed his lungs, his belly, his chest.
It pulled at his face, at his limbs.
He couldn’t breathe.
His sense of up and down reversed.
Everything around him seemed to flip upside down in a dizzying wave, one that turned rapidly into a spinning, twisting vortex.
That spinning ripped apart everything around him.
It ripped apart the fabric of his Oval Office-adjacent office.
Tahi watched it all get blown away, like soft rock in a sandstorm: bookshelves, books, papers on his desk, the antique land-line phone, his night view of the White House gardens, the antique oak desk, the gold carpet, dark blue curtains, antique lamp.
He watched it rip apart the glass case he had on his desk––the only thing of genuine sentimental value to him in the entire building.
It was a piece of a volcanic cave.
It was a piece of the same volcanic cave where he’d been led to a portal to get to this world. Tahi, who’d been known as Gordan Kent to the humans here, brought the dark volcanic rock with him when he passed through that portal.
He’d recently paid to have it handsomely encased in glass––a last token from Old Earth, the place he still thought of as his true home.
The rock was gone now.
Tahi screamed into that vortex.
He saw stars.
Blue and green nebulae, shocking pink and purple starlight clouds.
Then, just as abruptly, he snapped back into one piece.
He stood, panting, entirely naked.
His bare feet kissed concrete.
He was covered in sweat, trembling, making a faint whimpering sound. Urine ran silently down one leg and puddled on the concrete floor as his bladder unexpectedly voided, spraying some of it up to hit out in front of him, since he wasn’t exactly holding his dick in his hand, trying to aim it––
A voice rose.
He peed again.
He hadn’t realized he wasn’t alone.
“You got him?” she said.
The voice was cold, clinical, unnervingly calm.
It also sounded just the slightest bit impatient.
Tahi’s eyes shifted instinctively to the face that came with that voice.
He knew who he would see, even before he turned. By then, he remembered. Not all of it, but he remembered enough to be terrified out of his mind––
But those glowing, gold-green eyes weren’t looking at him anymore.
They focused somewhere else.
“You got him?” she said again, the impatience more discernible. “Any day now, sister… I’m only in a cage with him. Naked. Unarmed.”
Tahi turned, following her gaze.
He saw another female, standing on the other side of iron bars.
Most assuredly a seer, from her nearly white eyes with the dark-blue rings, she raised a tranquilizer rifle to her shoulder as Tahi watched.
His eyes tracked every increment of the motion, as if it happened at one-fourth of the regular speed.
Even so, he was still slow to react.
He lifted a hand, whimpering.
He sounded like a trapped rabbit, even to himself.
He whimpered, gasping, fighting to catch his breath––
––when a dart hit him, a perfect bullseye in the middle of his naked chest.
(End sample pages)
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