Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ancient Blood, A Novel of the Hegemony by Brian McKinley

Caroline and I were on the run.
Ancient Blood, A Novel of the Hegemony by Brian McKinley
We wiped down our place in Princeton as soon as the sun set that evening, loaded our few essentials into my hatchback, and headed down to Trenton so Caroline could meet up with this hacker guy she’d met online. She wanted to give him some insurance for safe keeping.
I grew up in Trenton, so I know the area well. The hacker lived on South Clinton, one of the residential streets that parallel Broad Street near the Whitehorse Circle. I remember it was a small, white duplex.
“All right, I’ll just be a minute,” Caroline said, grabbing her folder off the floor as I pulled to the curb. “Keep the engine running, but shut the lights off. Oh, and turn off the radio, scootch down in the seat a little in case—”
I reached over and brushed the back of her hand—she jumped like she’d forgotten I was there, her head snapping over to look at me. I remember being reminded of my old girlfriend, Michelle, whose previous boyfriend used to beat her. Michelle jumped like that when I touched her, too. This nervous, skittish Caroline wasn’t somebody I was familiar with; it scared me and pissed me off at the same time. Caroline was the rational one, the strong voice of reason who took the lead and always knew the best way to go about something.
“Hey, relax,” I told her, as gently as I could, and moved my fingers up to stroke the fine, downy hair at her temples.
She gave a half-hearted nod, so I leaned over and kissed her. I wanted that kiss to be solid, reassuring, and passionate; a kiss that would make her melt into my arms and forget our situation for a few blissful moments. Instead, she gave me one of those closed-lip pecks and pulled away.
I shut off the headlights, but kept the music on since I was only halfway through “Vampire Love.” I watched Caroline climb the steps to the second floor and knock. She glanced around the whole time. After a few seconds, somebody opened the door, and she went inside. I sat back and gazed around at the other houses and occasional passing car, singing along with The Misfits under my breath.
A cop car crossed the intersection in front of me, just as the song ended. As well as losing all body fat and gaining a significant increase in strength as a Vampyr, my senses had become more acute. So, I’m not sure if the cop crawled across the intersection or if I only perceived it that way. He was, however, looking around for something.
I’d parked behind another car, far enough back that I could still pull out, but it blocked most of his view of me. Now I was nervous, wishing Caroline would hurry up.
I even shut off the radio.
After another few impatient minutes, she came out. Even if there was a description of her out, we’d taken precautions. She wore loose-fitting sweats rather than her normal jeans and blouse, her blonde hair was down rather than back in her usual ponytail, and she was wearing her fake glasses. I wore blue jeans, a red flannel shirt, and a jean-jacket Caroline picked up at the Salvation Army. I looked like a complete tool.
“Hurry,” she said as she climbed in.
I nodded, turned the lights back on, and pulled away from the curb.
“Off they drove into the darkness of the night,” I began, trying to get a smile from her. “Two young lovers on a desperate odyssey—”
“Cut it out. Please.”
I’d almost made it to Whitehorse Avenue, where the street ended, when I caught something in my rearview mirror.
The same damn cop I’d seen a few minutes ago.
He was driving down another cross street, but turned as soon as he spotted us and started closing the distance. I sped up and took the right onto Whitehorse against the light. I raced up a block and made a sharp left onto a small side street that could take us to Broad Street. Cutting my lights, I tore down the single lane, hoping to get out of sight before the cop turned onto Whitehorse.
I saw headlights pass in my mirror, but couldn’t tell if it was the cop or not. The street dead-ended at a high school, and—even with my improved night vision—it was very dark without the headlights. The parked cars on either side made for a wonderful obstacle course; I just prayed no pedestrians were out.
I came to the cross street and took the turn before putting my lights back on. In the few seconds it took us to reach Broad Street, my mind filled with projections of the cop sitting there, having anticipated my move, patiently waiting for us to emerge…
He wasn’t. I guess he figured I’d made the right into the parking lot of the Chinese buffet on the corner and cut out onto Broad that way.
Or, as Caroline suggested later, maybe he wasn’t trying to catch us at all.
I decided to take I-195 to the Turnpike. From the Turnpike, we could get to anywhere we needed. If they were looking for my car, it would be better to be one among many on a road with no stop lights.
Once it seemed that our moment of desperate pursuit was over, the whole business took on the feel of an intense role-playing scenario. I also have to admit, it made me feel good to have Caroline depending on me for once.
It made me feel like I finally deserved her.
I tried to get a conversation going as we drove, mentioning people I knew in New York and Philly who might be able to help or give us a place to crash for the day, asking whether we should continue with our original plan.
After a few, long silent minutes Caroline said: “Go to Newark first. We’ve got to assume your car’s been linked to me somehow. We’ll drop it off in long term parking or maybe just leave it on the street with the keys in it and rent something different.” She wasn’t even looking at me; she was staring out the window at the sky.
“Whoa, back up a second. You want to let my car get stolen just because some cop spooked us a little? He might not have even been looking for us. Probably just chased us ‘cause I bolted—”
“No. The fact that we even saw that cop was either a very lucky accident or a deliberate prod to get us moving in the right direction. They won’t use cops to capture us, Avery; that would involve too many questions. If Ash and his people are out there, we won’t know it until we’re trapped.”
I just kept driving, doing my best to stay in the center lanes.
“Avery, it’s only a car,” she said after another second. “We can replace it once we get—”
“Yeah, I know. I get it.” I drove a dark red, 1986 Plymouth Duster that I’d bought with some of the money my mom left me in her will. Sure, it was a jalopy, but it was my jalopy.
After another few moments, I felt her fingers caress behind my ear, playing with the hair back there and raising pleasant goose-bumps on the tender skin. “I like the way your hair feels, so nice and soft,” she said. “I love being able to run my fingers through it.”
I smiled. “Weren’t you the one who always complained that it made me look scruffy and unkempt?”
She laid her head against my shoulder. “Yes, and it does. Can I help it if my eyes like one thing and my hands like another?”
I love how she sounds when she lets her voice get playful. She sounds like Eva Marie Saint trading silky banter with Cary Grant in North By Northwest.
I was about to make some Grantishly witty reply when she sat forward, trying to see as far above us as the windshield would allow. “Avery, I think that helicopter is following us.”
I craned my neck to try to see what she was talking about, conscious that the cars ahead of me kept slowing down. “I don’t see anything.”
“It’s there. I caught a glimpse of it back when we were still on one-ninety-five.”
“But how could they find us? And don’t say hidden tracking devices.”
Author Brian McKinley
She sighed. “Their helicopters are equipped with night vision, thermal imaging, and telescopic lenses. They can read your license plate and body temperature from half a mile by match light.” Her mention of body temperature was a reference to the fact that, far from being the undead corpses of fiction and folklore, Vampyrs have a faster metabolism and higher body temperature than humans.
Did I mention that Caroline and I are both Vampyrs?
And, no, I’m not being pretentious with the spelling. Vampyrs are a particular species of vampire which Caroline and other scientific types call Homo Sapiens Sanguivarus. There are others, which I’ll get into later, but the main thing is that we’re still living, breathing people who have been transformed at the genetic level to be able to live on human blood alone. Caroline’s been researching ways to improve that condition.
We were approaching Exit 8-A, and up ahead, the Turnpike splits into separate bus/truck and car only lanes. Usually, this helped cut down on congestion, but the overpass signs said that the truck lanes were closed for construction.
“They’re funneling us,” Caroline said. “Farther along, they’ll announce some accident that’s closed all the car lanes, too. Then we’ll be detoured off, and while we’re hemmed in by cars on all sides, they’ll arrive as FBI agents and discreetly take us into custody.”
“Fuck that,” I said. “They can’t close the New Jersey Turnpike just to get us. What about all the news choppers that’ll come out to cover the supposed accident? They gonna fake that, too? Jackknife a semi full of oil and kill thirty people just to make it look convincing?”
“Avery,” Caroline said, invoking her ability to sound like my tenth grade math teacher. “This isn’t some local Reeve, this is Sebastian. He could shut down every airport in North America and keep the mainstream media from acknowledging it!”
I didn’t bother trying to argue. Caroline’s written a book on The Order (which I read as part of Vampyr 101), but the idea of a single group being able to control everything still seemed absurd.
Meanwhile, I’d seen the cars and trucks merging left. Traffic cones appeared in the farthest right lane and angled out to cut off the entrance to the truck lanes. Thick steel poles also hung across the lanes with “closed” signs on them, suspended with cables from an overhead rigging. Then, to make absolutely sure you got the point, a NJ State Trooper stood ready beside his patrol car, lights flashing.
I had an idea that, as they say in the movies, might just be crazy enough to work.
Fighting the left-bound flow of traffic, I moved into the right lane and considered the optimum place to break through the traffic cones. I’d only have a few seconds before the cop pulled his pistol and shot us. Being Vampyrs, we could survive gunshots, but it would still hurt like hell. I decided that the smartest maneuver was to veer where we paralleled the trooper, running fast and straight at him for the shortest possible distance. This point also coincided with a gap between two of the poles and the edge of the trooper’s front bumper.
The moment arrived. I swerved and gunned the gas.
“What are you doing?”
“Taking the road less traveled.”
The trooper dodged around behind his vehicle as I clipped his bumper, ripped up my hood, and spider-webbed both sides of my windshield crashing through the poles.
In retrospect, it’s probably the most ballsy, cinematic thing I’ve ever done, but when I was doing it, I just felt blind terror. Caroline screamed. Now I was driving a smashed up Duster on a deserted two-lane highway with visibility only at the center of the windshield. Maybe I thought I’d jump off at the first exit, ditch the car once we were out of sight, and steal another. Maybe I just thought we’d end up on World’s Wildest Police Chases.
My first hint that my brainstorm had been a mistake came when the trooper showed no sign of pursuing us.
The second was when I heard Caroline’s helicopter overhead.
The third and final one was the solid line of construction vehicles that blocked the road about a half-mile up. Silly me, with my head full of Caroline’s conspiracy warnings, it never even occurred to me they could be telling the truth about the road construction.
Yup. Crazy like a fox.
As I screeched to a halt, I could see the helicopter landing behind us in my rearview mirror: a big black sucker with no markings.
“Get out and run!” I shouted over the noise, popping my seat belt. “Head for those trees, I’ll try to keep them busy!”
I heard her scream my name, but I was already gone…

* * * * *

I’d love nothing more than to tell you how my newly-acquired Vampyr strength allowed me to mop the asphalt with the guys in the chopper, or even how I took a few down in a valiant struggle before falling under the weight of their numbers, allowing my beloved to make her getaway.
Didn’t happen.
I came roaring out of the car expecting Hugo Weaving or maybe even old Cancer Man from The X-Files, instead, six commandos in black jumpsuits and body armor poured out and jogged toward me in formation. I charged, feeling confident in my enhanced Vampyr body and roared a challenge to draw their attention as I closed the distance.
They dropped me with a stun gun before I made it halfway.
Not one of those silly looking pistols with the wires, this was a gun akin to a shotgun, and had I been able to look down, I would have seen a battery resembling a soda can attached to my chest with contacts sticking out from all sides.
What’s it feel like? Nothing.
I remember having no sense of touch, sight, sound, or taste. I think I remember smelling that ozone scent of rain, but that might have been my imagination.
It didn’t knock me out. They did that with the tranquilizer darts as I lay there twitching on the concrete. They rolled me onto my stomach and cuffed me, while I watched Caroline, also in handcuffs, being led to the chopper by a middle aged, leathery soldier who I would later learn was Ash. I remember thinking that Ash looked more like Humphrey Bogart with a crew cut than Hugo Weaving.
Then I blacked out.

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