Author’s Note: For those who missed Author’s Note 004, Book 005 is a short (five chapter) ‘prequel’ of sorts focusing on the Lansing Incident and Wayne Lurcher.
The year two-thousand. A bunch of people thought it was going to be the end of the world. Idiots, mostly.
Some quit their jobs, packed their bags, and went on vacation. Entire life savings blown in a week. Some ran around screaming like chickens with their heads cut off. Others paraded around with signs hanging off their chest stating that the ‘End is Nigh’ or some other such nonsense. As if telling people about the apocalypse would stop the coming end.
Then there were the profiteers. The ones who capitalized on the idiocy of others. They sought money, sex, and favors while hyping up the idea of the end.
By and large, both groups were in the vast minority. To everyone else, the world would keep on turning. ‘Doomsdays’ cropped up once or twice every decade. They became easy to ignore after seeing a few pass by without consequence.
Of course the year two-thousand would attract more idiots than normal. The media had been making a huge deal out of it for the whole year. A lot of the focus was given to computers more than any sort of supernatural apocalypse handed down by God. A somewhat legitimate concern, but even if those new-fangled computers had a slight hiccup, life would go on. The mundanes in charge of technology would figure out solutions before the month was out.
And yet, looking down at the smoke-covered ruins of Lansing, Michigan, Wayne couldn’t help but wonder if the idiots were right.
The idiots in Lansing were right, at the very least.
Fires still engulfed a good quarter of the city even three days after the incident first started. The screams could still be heard, even from far outside the city. Of course, most of those came from the much nearer wall.
Wayne turned his binoculars away from the burning capitol building, refocusing on the hastily erected wall.
There was some sort of command center made up of prefabricated buildings around the freeway. Guards patrolled on top with heavy machine guns while a sniper and spotter sat on an elevated watchtower. For a good dozen yards in either direction, a fortified wall had been built up. Guardsmen patrolled along the top.
The barrier continued beyond the fortified wall. Most of it was still chain-link topped cement barriers. How they had managed to encircle the city in a mere three days was beyond Wayne’s imagination. The mundane government must have had plans. Contingencies for a biological hazard released in a city-center.
Some of the creatures undoubtedly escaped before the walls went up, but if the Elysium Order hadn’t dropped everything to focus on Lansing, Wayne would eat his hat.
Around the outside perimeter, guardsmen patrolled in full battle dress uniform with their weapons held for action at a moment’s notice. High-intensity floodlights illuminated a wide field of land, giving ample opportunity for reaction time. The field itself was scorched. Burned and scarred. Nothing remained within forty feet of the fence save ashes.
The military was thorough, if nothing else.
A flicker of movement at the edge of the light caught Wayne’s attention. He swung his binoculars over to focus on the movement.
Standing in the shadow of a charred tree was a person. At least, a person shaped thing. The blood-soaked claws at the ends of his arm spoke of his inhuman status. His blank white eyes narrowed as one of the long-range spotlights swept past the tree. Not that he got caught. The slow sweep of the spotlight gave ample time for him to reposition fully behind the trunk.
The moment the light cleared the tree, the man moved. It was fast enough that Wayne thought it was teleportation for a moment. He had to dial black on his magnification just to keep him in scope.
Fortunately for the guards, one of them noticed before he could sprint more than three steps.
Bullets poured downrange without any regard for any collateral damage behind the man. A split second after the guardsman’s rifle belched out its payload, two more guardsmen joined in from nearby.
Supersonic bullets couldn’t be dodged once they were fired. Not at the distances they were fighting at. Not by a human.
The man down on the killing field was anything but human. He snapped side to side with that same near-teleportation speed. It looked like he could only use it in short bursts, and now he had started using it to go side to side rather than straight towards the fence.
Three more guardsmen rushed over and joined in the firing. Wayne wasn’t sure which one broke the camel’s back, but their combined force meant there was just too much lead in the air to be dodged.
The first bullet struck the man in the shoulder. Thick red blood exploded outwards. Even with that, Wayne knew it wouldn’t amount to more than a bruise in terms of actual effect upon his ability.
But the sheer kinetic force was enough to interrupt his movements long enough for a second bullet to hit him in the stomach. A third and a fourth followed. Before long, the man filled with enough lead to sink a ship.
Still he did not fall. Not until his head snapped to one side, brain matter exploding out both the entry wound and exit wound.
The sharp crack of a high-caliber sniper rifle’s report split the air as his body slumped to the ground.
Wayne frowned as he continued to watch the situation, wondering just what their plan was. The man might be on the ground, but sunrise was several hours away and bullets wouldn’t keep him down.
The guardsmen ceased firing, but kept their weapons trained on his body while reloading in shifts. One of them reached over to a radio attached to his shoulder.
Less than two minutes later, Wayne saw it. A jeep rolled up alongside the fence. All the guardsmen backed off, weapons still on the downed man, as a man with a gas mask jumped out the back of the vehicle. He carried three tanks on his back, all connected to a hose.
Once up to the fence, he jammed the nozzle partway through the chain fence.
A stream of fire erupted from the end, flew the twenty feet gap, and buried the man in napalm.
Already in torpor, the vampire didn’t even scream as he turned to ash.
As the flames ate the corpse, the guardsmen exchanged their spent magazines for fresh ones at the jeep and promptly resumed their patrols.
No one bothered to extinguish the flames.
That explained the charred woods at least.
“I wonder what the brass told the grunts?” Wayne grumbled to himself. The year two-thousand idiots were right about one thing, it was the end. Not of the world perhaps, but there was no chance of covering up this disaster.
“Ah well,” Wayne said as he replaced the caps on his binoculars, “had to happen sometime.”
Really, it was surprising that the supernatural world hadn’t been outed long ago. With the way technology moved, someone had to be out there recording something they shouldn’t.
Well, they were. Wayne had seen plenty of the supernatural in mundane news reports.
It helped that such things were typically dismissed as hoaxes without much investigation. Some, like the Cottingley Fairies, fell under much harsher scrutiny. In the end, even those had been dismissed as fakes.
Wayne had no idea what those fae were thinking when they allowed themselves to be captured on camera.
But this was a bit bigger than a few girls in the woods and a grainy camera. This was a city. A capital city at that. It wasn’t the most populated city, but it was big enough to demand answers. Real answers.
Shaking his head, Wayne jumped back into his Impala and slammed the door. Such concerns were for people in power. The scope of his goal was far smaller.
“Sarah, you better be alright.”
One of the grunts at a checkpoint built up in the middle of the highway a short distance from the prefab command center waved Wayne down.
Though he kept a hand on his tome for any emergencies, Wayne wasn’t really up to testing his reaction time against the eight guns trained on him. And those were just the ones he could see. Even with the few seconds of time dilation provided by his pyrokinesis enhancing his mind, it was far too easy to get hit by a bullet from somewhere he couldn’t see.
So Wayne pulled over at the checkpoint, keeping his motions as innocent as possible.
A young grunt, a private by the single chevron he sported on his uniform, stepped out of the small guardhouse and right up to the driver-side window.
“City is under quarantine,” he said as he waved his flashlight over the passenger seat and rear seats before stopping at the book on Wayne’s lap. “I’m going to have to ask you to turn around.”
Without a word, Wayne held up an identification badge and a set of papers.
The private took the forged documents and glanced over them. He spent a good two minutes looking between the identification and Wayne. “Major Lurcher?” At Wayne’s nod, he turned his attention to the papers.
Wayne had to fight to keep the smile off of his face as the private’s eyes went wide.
“I-I think I need to call this in.”
“Then get to it, Private Mhenlo,” Wayne snapped, taking his name from the tape above his left breast. “I don’t have all–”
A crackle of distant gunshots cut Wayne off.
Wayne made a vague gesture off towards the direction it came from. “Make the call, private. And make it quick.”
“Yes, sir. Right away, sir.” The private gave a sloppy salute as he half ran into his little guardhouse.
Before the door could slam shut, Wayne extended a small thaumaturgical shield out, catching the door and keeping it from closing fully. He then watched through the window as the private picked up a phone.
“Sir,” his voice came through the crack in the door, “I have a Major out here requesting entrance.”
There was a slight pause as the other end of the line replied.
“No, sir. Entrance to the city itself. He’s–”
“No, sir. No armor or even a uniform. No insignia either. He’s wearing a sold black suit with a flat-topped hat.”
“No, sir. He’s alone. Had a thick book though. I think,” he paused, glancing out the window. As soon as he noticed Wayne watching him, his back went straight and he looked away. “I think he’s black-ops. Men-in-black or something, you know?”
“Crazier than what’s been trying to escape from the city?”
“Sorry, sir. Won’t happen again. I’ll wave him through.”
With that, the private hung up and rushed back outside. The soldiers around the guard post apparently got a few orders over radio by the time the private made it to the Impala. They promptly pulled their weapons off of Wayne, though they kept ready and alert.
Hard to blame them for being paranoid with the disaster in the city behind them.
“Alright, sir. Captain said he wanted to meet with you. He’s up at the larger building at the left. Said he’d meet you at the entrance.”
“Thank you, Private Mhenlo.” Wayne retrieved his papers from the kid.
Stepping away from the Impala, the private touched his fingers to the brim of his hat.
Wayne gave a half-hearted return salute as he pulled forwards. Not too fast, he didn’t want to spook the guards into shooting him. Thankfully, he made it without incident.
It was good that the military had created a large and movable gate over the highway as opposed to a solid wall. The city itself was still far enough away that walking would have taken far too long. He had already delayed enough through simply not hearing about the situation for a day and a half. Hopefully the roads wouldn’t be jam-packed with other cars.
Still, the gate didn’t open. Grumbling at having to meet with some officer, Wayne shut off the engine and got out of his car. He kept his focus tucked in the crook of his arm.
Outside the larger building, one of the two guards opened the door. Neither saluted as Wayne walked past, but he didn’t expect them to. While not a part of the army, Wayne was still fairly certain that saluting out of uniform wasn’t a thing.
A thing that the captain–based off of his insignia of double silver bars–who was standing at attention within the building apparently hadn’t heard about.
Wayne had to give the same half-hearted salute just to get him to relax.
“Once the road is clear of any hostiles,” Wayne said, half throwing his papers at the captain, “you’re to open your gate and allow my vehicle through.”
“You can and you will. Your orders are to keep anyone, or anything, from leaving the city. Unless something has changed, you have no orders against allowing entry.”
It was a bluff. A huge gamble. But even if the man’s orders had been phrased as ‘not letting anything in or out,’ Wayne was getting into the city one way or another. If that meant fighting through a small contingent of armed forces, so be it.
After a tense moment of staring at the middle-aged captain, he finally sighed. “These papers say that you’re attempting a VIP extraction. I can’t let you back out.”
“That isn’t something you need to concern yourself with.” Unfortunately. Wayne didn’t quite plan that far ahead. Something would work out, even if it did end up with Sarah using her earth magic to burrow out of the city. There was also the river running through the city. It would probably be less defended than roads. “We received word of the individual being still alive and must attempt the extraction.”
“With all due respect, sir, you’re going to get eaten alive out there. Literally. Before we finished setting up the wall, two of my men…”
He shook his head, glancing down at the floor. “We probably didn’t need to burn the bodies, though we did anyway of course. Orders are orders.”
“It was good that you did,” Wayne said honestly. “Those killed by vampires have a habit of not staying dead. But don’t concern yourself with my safety. I am what you might call a specialist in these sorts of matters.”
Despite continuing to speak, Wayne was relatively certain that Captain Hicks hadn’t heard much after a certain word.
Wayne grimaced at the captain’s tone. He should have just kept his mouth shut.
“Things have been crazy here, but there is no need for jokes in such poor taste.”
“I am entirely serious,” Wayne said, voice dropping a few notches. “Though you likely haven’t been fighting many. Ghouls and thralls for the most part. The smarter vampires would send such minions to your walls to probe for weaknesses.”
“Ghouls? Thralls? Sir, I-I hate to ask. Are you feeling alright?”
Wayne sighed. This conversation was going on far too long already. He needed to get into that city. If the captain decided to shut him out on the chance of him being crazy…
Magic channeled through his tome, forming a spark in the air between the two. Above Wayne’s open palm, a cool fireball formed. No real heat emitted save for a pleasant warmth, like moving from shade into the sunlight on a chilly day.
Captain Hicks took a step back, hand going to his side for his pistol.
Wayne extinguished the flame before the captain could draw it. Just in case, he erected a very visible thaumaturgical shield between the two.
“Ghouls,” Wayne said, raising his voice. “Created by death through exsanguination of a human by a vampire. They’ll follow the vampire’s orders through a mental link, but aren’t much better than zombies. You’ve seen the movies, right?”
Wide-eyed, the captain nodded. His pistol was out of his holster, but it was still aimed at the floor with its safety on and his finger on the trigger guard.
The two guards that had been standing outside burst into the room along with another soldier from behind the captain. All started with their weapons trained on Wayne, though lowered them as the captain waved them off.
“Thralls are humans given enhanced durability and limited regeneration, plus a few other bits and bobs, through the ingestion of a vampire’s blood. They retain their mental faculties, but it is addictive to the point where only those with great mental fortitude will actually disobey a vampire’s orders.”
“And the vampires themselves. Inhuman strength, speed, and stamina. They’re magic capable without exception and undying save through complete destruction of their bodies, typically through flames. They create more through a small ritual involving drinking a human’s blood on three separate nights followed by eating of the vampire’s flesh. Though any fresh ones are likely ignorant of their more supernatural abilities, or simply not powerful enough to make use of them yet.”
“That makes sense,” the captain started, slowly. He reached out and brushed his fingers across the bubble surrounding Wayne as if checking that it was actually there. “We’ve had several close calls tonight with infected reaching the fence. I’ve had to double up patrols.”
Wayne nodded. “And it is the third night.”
An uneasy silence settled over the captain and his guards.
Feeling that he wasn’t in immediate danger of being shot, Wayne toned down his shield to a low shimmer. Just enough to stop a few bullets and still have time to power it up with his mental acceleration active.
“Now,” Wayne said, snatching his forged papers out of the captain’s hands, “if you will be so kind as to open the gate. I have a VIP to collect.”
“Of course, sir. I’ll… If you don’t mind my asking, how did this happen? If these creatures were known, shouldn’t there have been plans in place? Someone should have said something. Stopped all this from happening.”
Wayne suppressed a sigh. The captain’s anger wasn’t exactly unfounded. Maybe he knew someone inside the city as well. Shaking his head, Wayne answered, “Normally, vampires are mostly harmless. They don’t like to make waves for fear of being hunted down. A meal here or there will usually leave someone feeling anemic at most with few memories of what happened the night before. Mostly harmless.
“As for how this blew up into a city-wide disaster, I don’t know. People at higher pay-grades can figure that out. I’m just a soldier.”
There, increase camaraderie by likening myself to them. Blame failures on the higher-ups.
Captain Hicks shook his head. “This whole situation is fubar.”
“No arguments there, Captain.”
“Right.” The captain gripped his radio and pressed down on the button. “Attention, this is Captain Hicks. We’re opening the gate.” He glanced around Wayne’s shoulder to look out the window. “One Chevrolet Impala will be driving towards the city. The vehicle is not a target.”
Releasing his radio, the captain looked up to Wayne. “I hope you know what you’re doing, sir.”
“So do I.” Wayne extinguished his shield as he turned to the door. “So do I.”
Jumping back into the Impala, Wayne revved the engine as he waited for the gate to open.
A series of gunshots echoed out very near. Likely right on top of the wall. The loud rushing wind noise of a flamethrower sounded soon after, illuminating much of the wall at the same time.
The captain walked up to his open window and leaned over. “You’re clear, sir. Good luck. I hope you get out safely. It’d be a shame to lose more good men to this nightmare.”
Wayne nodded. “Best you just forget about me, captain. I’m sure you’ll sleep better not wondering what happened to me.”
“I don’t think I’ll be getting much sleep for a long while. Even if they are zombies or vampires or whatever, they’re still American citizens. Or they were.”
Soldiers with flamethrowers moved up to the gate, leaving just enough space for a car to slip through. Something akin to an air horn went off three times and the gate started moving at the end of the third.
“Welp,” Wayne said, “good luck with your job, Captain Hicks. Give ’em hell.”
Captain Hicks stepped back and saluted Wayne as he peeled off towards the city.