Monday, January 15, 2018

Chapter 7

            After leaving the Representative, Thomas and her group were taken to an office building in the centre of the Sydney CBD.  After making their way to a secure floor, they entered a room set up with a meeting table and chairs at one end, and six large, flat screen televisions at the other.
            As Thomas entered the room, she swiped her card and the screens flared to life.  Each one displayed an individual sitting in a similarly decorated meeting room.  Smith loved technology and this stuff appealed to him no end.  Thomas was talking even before she sat down.  Smith had no idea why Hamish had decided to crash the meeting, but then, the kid seemed to do whatever he pleased.
            “Good afternoon everyone.”  She said in her most business-like tone.  “Before we get started I would like to introduce the new Theta Team Coordinator, Agent Robert Smith.”  Thomas motioned to each screen in turn as she spoke.  “David Wexley, Europe; Nina Esconda, South America; ‘Tex’ Melling, North America; Su-Ling Poi, Asia; Zafra Al-Mukhtar, Middle East; and, N’gembi Ontaro, Africa.” 
            Smith smiled in general greeting and took his seat.
            “By now you have all been briefed on Williams and the Red Council.  I am hereby declaring a Code White for the Agency.”  Several people on the screens blanched visibly.
            “Penny is that really necessary?” asked Director Melling, his thick south-western accent filling the room.  “Shouldn’t this be an internal matter for the Haemocracy?
            “Tex,” she began.  “If this had been confined to the Haemocracy than I’d agree.  But almost two-thousand innocent people were killed, two Lycans were experimented on in the most hideous way imaginable, and, the Red Council is clearly developing biological weapons far in advance of anything we know of, and, can currently counter.”
            The North American Director nodded and went silent.
            Thomas looked to the upper right-hand corner.  “Zaf.  There’s talk that they may have recruited scientists from the old regime in Iraq, and quite possibly Libya.”
            Director Al-Mukhtar shook his head.  “Sorry, Penelope.  We just picked up the last of them not three hours ago.  All black market and ex-regime weaponists are accounted for.”  His richly accented voice seemed to heighten the tension in the room.
            Thomas muttered a profanity.  “Are you certain?  The Haemocracy speculates otherwise.”
            Al-Mukhtar shook his head.  “Absolutely sure.  We’ve been watching these targets for six months.  They have all been neutralised.  We even gave the CIA a couple of gifts.
            Thomas slammed her hand down on the desk.  It seemed her favourite way to let of steam.  “Damn it!”
            “I’d be looking into former Soviet scientists myself.
            This cause Thomas to perk up somewhat before looking to the middle left screen.  “Do you have something for us David?”
            The dapper man smiled condescendingly.  “Naturally.  The Soviets were far more advanced in this area than even the Americans.  Their biological weapons programme was so ahead of it’s time that the only reason it wasn’t put into action was that the delivery technologies they wanted were yet to be invented.”  Wexley looked to one side off screen for several seconds.  The sound of rustling paper indicated he was looking for something.  “A-ha!  I have four of the bastards unaccounted for.
            “Let’s have them.”  Thomas instructed as she motioned for Campbell to take notes.
            Wexley continued.  “Antonin Antonovich – ex-head of the Viral Research Unit for the KGB; Tatiana Kamarova – Scientist in Charge of their military research unit; Michal Keraboski – previously Political Officer of the State Bio-Repository; and, Serafina Kilkatova – Director of the KGB’s Weapons Research Unit.  I don’t know how, but all four eluded their Watchers, and the entire associated surveillance.
            On another screen, Director Ontaro gasped in surprise.  Smith surmised that the CSD’s surveillance techniques were not easy ones to elude.
            Director Esconda of South America spoke up.  “This may not be anything, but we’ve had several ex-Nazis in Brazil suddenly go quiet.
            “How long ago was that, Nina?”  Thomas asked.
            The attractive Brazillian woman replied.  “Six weeks ago.”
            “What were their backgrounds?”  Smith asked curiously.
            Director Esconda answered without having to refer to anything.  “All were engineering.  No bio-tech whatsoever.  All had high level engineering skills, but had been relatively low profile during the war.  We’ve kept watch on them, but have so far been unable to tie them to war crimes.  So…
            “Hang on,” Hamish interjected.  “How old are these guys?  Shouldn’t they be back in diapers with slobber cups by now?”
            Esconda laughed.  “I need someone like you around here, Hamish.” Then her expression became all business again.  These men all have the appearance of early middle age.  We guessed that they may have had access to black market genetics research, but it still wasn’t enough to show on the radar.
            “Consider them back on the radar, Nina.  We need to know where they are, and taken into custody if possible please.”  Thomas requested.
            “Shall do, Penelope, however, the DEA have been sniffing around them which may have caused them to go underground.
            Thomas looked to Melling.  “Tex, can you get the DEA to back off for a couple of months?”
            The Texan American laughed boisterously.  “When have I not delivered for you, Penny-Pea?
            Thomas smiled in spite of herself.  “Rarely.”  The American was typically over the top but completely engaging.  She tapped a few commands on her PDA then looked back up.  “Alright, I’ve just sent you everything we have, including our travel itinerary for the next week.  We suspect that they will try again.  What we don’t know is where.  It could be here in Australia but it could be anywhere.”
            Director Ontaro spoke up.  His voice had that richly accented basso common to African men.  “Penelope, Williams was on a route for heavy weapons smuggling.  Now, there are not as many of those, as there are isolated small towns.”  Ontaro left it hanging.
            Thomas replied crisply.  “Good thinking.  All of you intensify your Watchers on known heavy weapons smuggling routes and I’ll ask our friends to reposition a couple of satellites for us.  Anything further?”  No other comments came from the conference participants.  “Then I’ll check in with all of you in three days.  Thank you.”  With that, all the screens went dark.  Thomas handed Campbell a file.  “Get onto our friends at the Pentagon and get some assets put over the routes that the D’s specify.”
            “What’s with the heavy weapons link?”  Smith asked.
            Thomas leant forward in her chair.  “When you put all those individuals together in one pot and stir, you immediately think heavy weapons.  There are nineteen preferred routes for heavy weapons smuggling in the world.”
            Smith understood.  “So, a heavy weapons shipment could identify a target.”
            Thomas rocked one hand from side to side.  “It’s hit and miss.  Thankfully, the satellites will also be able to pick up Haemocrat heat signatures.  Combine those with the location and we might get a hit.”
            “And Watchers,” Smith continued.  “They’re what I think they are?
            Thomas nodded.  “They are.  We have at least one Watcher in each major city and most major towns.  Other areas depend on importance whether or not an asset is put there.”
            Smith waited as Campbell left the room to attend to his task.  As soon as the door closed he spoke.  “We have people in the Pentagon?”
            Thomas looked to Hamish.  The young man sighed in the manner of a jilted teenager.  “Okay, okay” he started.  “I’ll go ogle Campbell and leave the James Bond stuff to you grown-ups.”  Hamish and his pout left the room.
            Thomas spoke.  “We have someone in every organisation, country, town, or company that we deem of import.  Always remember that.”
            “How many of us are there?”  He asked breathlessly.
            Thomas tapped on her PDA for a few moments before bringing up some data on one of the screens.  “Each Director has total control over their area.  It’s entirely up to them how many agents they have – their generous budget permitting.”  Thomas switched the picture to a map of the world.  Dotted all over it were small green dots.  “Each dot is a Watcher.  Most are ours.  Others are agents in Intelligence Organisations that do work for us as well.  Others are just the right people in the right place that we recruit on the side.”
            Smith gestured at the map.  “We have Watchers in countries that hate us.” 
            Thomas nodded.  “Countries may hate us.  But that doesn’t mean that all the people in that country do.  We seek those people out.”
            “How do the agents maintain their integrity?  Being the servant of two task masters must put them between a rock and a hard place sometimes?”
            Thomas again nodded.  “True.  But we don’t do that.  We will not violate the internal policies of an Intelligence Organisation of an ally.”
            Smith raised an eyebrow.  “And those we don’t consider an ally?”
            Thomas smiled grimly.  “Then it’s open season.”
            Smith smiled knowingly.  He had read reports about the actions of so called ‘Good’ agencies when it came to destabilising the ‘Bad’.  Smith had understood the intentions behind the activities but had not always agreed with them.  Making a country come around to your way of thinking by increasing the level of fear and paranoia in its own government did not seem quite the right approach to him.  Mind you, he had been a data analyst looking at the issue through an intellectual window, far from the actual event itself.  He now understood how so many agencies could so easily get things wrong.  However, it did not alter his particularly moral view of the phrase ‘the means justify the ends’.  For him, that would never become an accepted axiom.
Most of the decision makers sat in offices in downtown areas of capitals or major cities.   Few, if any, were actually out in the field doing the hard work.  It explained any number of incidents that had gone horribly wrong over the years.  The bosses did not experience the nuances of the situation whilst the field agents were focussing on their own issues but had trouble seeing the bigger picture.  Unfortunately, there seemed to be no middle person who could translate for both. 
            Perhaps this was why Smith was developing such a deep respect for Thomas so quickly.  She was a Director who got out amongst her agents and experienced the events first hand.  She handed very little off and was involved in every step of an investigation.  Interestingly though, she did not micro manage.  She was involved, but was more than comfortable delegating to her team and letting them do the actual work, including the decision making for that particular task.  It was evident that she was still very much in charge though.  She knew everything that was going on in the Agency and with all their operations.

            It squirmed underneath his touch.  He did not care.  He pulled back momentarily to realise that not only did he not care; he did not hate the creature either.  In place was an ambivalence that seemed to lay over him like a familiar blanket.  It comforted him; soothed him; eased the last few concerns of his.  It was a liberating feeling.  With a sigh of release, he turned back to his project.
            Before him, on a raised marble dais was his subject – a Lycan.  The thing was perhaps just reaching maturity.  Its body was still underdeveloped and it was quite unable to break its’ bonds.  A fortunate thing, it seemed, as it was very angry indeed at the treatment it was receiving.  He took a large syringe from a side table and, checking the quantity, injected it into his subject.
            It would be several minutes before any change began, so he wandered around his lab, tidying up where necessary and maintaining the integrity of his space.  And he did so enjoy his space.   A converted Hammam, it was predominantly marble with high set windows in a domed roof that allowed light to bounce around and provide some truly glorious moments in the day.  That it was constructed mainly of marble also meant it was much easier to keep clean, and he was most meticulous in that.
            He stopped by his computer and consulted the read outs.  Everything was proceeding according to his projections.  The genetic drift was a disappointment, but it did save him the thorny issue of what to do with them after their tasks were completed.  At least it was quick.  Previous attempts had resulted in agonising deaths that took weeks, and in some cases, months.  A few days were nothing to complain about.
            He turned back to his subject at the sound of a low growl.  It had begun.  The enzymatic compound that had been introduced to the Lycan had now begun its’ work.  The Lycan was now experiencing a level of pain hitherto unknown.  The thing would be experiencing stimulation to its nervous system that would feel as it was being sliced into by white-hot knives.  Again, he did not care.  All he was curious about was the intended effects and what actually happened.
            The Lycan was forced into its hybrid form by the solution attacking its system.  It screamed a unique cry of human and canine.  It was almost a howl, but it was marred by the excessive screeching that was a human-like scream.  He rolled his eyes.  This was precisely why he and his kind should no longer be signatories to the Contract.  These beasts may be physically stronger and faster, but they had no spirit.  Indeed, he had postulated many times that he believed they did not even possess souls or emotions such as them.  They were merely beasts who had managed to pass themselves off as respectable members of the gene pool.
            Now, the subject was beginning to manifest actual physical change.  Its incisors shortened, and its eyes were slowly turning a pinkish hue – a mix of the Lycan silver and the Haemocrat red.  Its’ skin was also losing some of the bronze tinge peculiar to Lycans in their human form, in its place was the pale, almost translucent white of a Haemocrat.  Further, its’ ears lengthened whilst its claw-like nails began to have a more Haemocrat appearance.  Brushing his hand against its’, he noticed the change in skin texture that would allow it to adhere to most surfaces. 
            He smiled as he administered a tranquilizer to silence the beast.  Everything had proceeded according to his research and planning.  Sitting in front of his computer, he sent a message to the Council informing them of his success in further refining the genetic change.
            He was quite pleased with himself.  A lesser scientist would have bungled it.  As it was, there had been times when he himself had wondered if he would succeed.  It goes without saying that his musings were internal – of course.  He would never have admitted his concerns to the others.  After all, he had an image and a position to maintain.  Even if it meant the cost of such personal consolidation would be several Lycan lives.  They were just dogs after all.  And he had a duty to end the suffering of rabid animals.
            He carefully washed and disinfected the hand that had been forced to touch the unconscious beast on his table.  He had to fight not to physically gag.  It was the one thing that he disliked about his vocation.  To experiment on them was one thing – he could use instruments for that – but occasionally he was forced to actually touch them.  It turned his stomach. 
            His family had stretched back for thousands of years.  And yet, he despised the female side of his lineage.  Even with the knowledge that his genetic makeup was mostly Haemocrat, he could not help but be sickened by their need to breed with Lycans.  He had doubled his efforts to find a way for his kind to successfully breed without the need for Lycan assistance.  He had conducted several trials using fully human females as incubators.  Sadly, all of them had perished either mid-term or at birth, and none of the infants had survived.  Their genetic dependence on the Lycans was proving most difficult to break.  But break it he would.  It was only a matter of time.
            An alarm broke his concentration.  Looking to his screen, he saw the vital signs of his subject dropping faster than he could read them.  He moved quickly to the dais and began attempts to keep the creature alive, but it expired before he could make a meaningful attempt to keep it alive.  It was most concerning.  This was the only subject to react in this fashion.  All the others had successfully mutated then lasted several days.  This one had barely lasted several minutes.
            He summoned his assistants and immediately began examining the still warm corpse.  As one assistant took a blood sample for analysis, another assisted him in quickly opening up the torso of the corpse.  He cut deeply, through the skin, muscles and ribs to expose the cardiac cavity.  What he saw shocked him.
            The heart had all but exploded.  Looking at the remains it appeared as if an explosive had detonated from the inside, blowing out one side of the primary chamber.  The lungs had also reacted in a similar fashion and had practically shredded themselves.  He wondered if other organs had suffered similar fates and commanded his assistant to open the cranium. 
            He moved to the assistant conducting the blood analysis and looked over his shoulder.  On the screen before them was the magnified image of the beasts’ red blood cells.  Right before his eyes they were exploding, his enhanced hearing clearly detecting the barely audible ‘puffs’ of the cells demise.  The analysis clearly identified a type of runaway gaseous expansion that was compromising their cellular integrity, resulting in an explosive end.  Given the subject had been in his care for the previous month, he knew that the beast had not arrived with this condition.  Someone had sabotaged his work.
            With a steady, careful step, he moved to the intercom on his desk and summoned four security staff.  When they arrived, he ordered his assistants taken into custody for questioning.  The two men were dragged away in spite of their extensive protestations.  He knew that someone within their organisation had done this, and he would start with those closest to him. 
            His facility possessed the highest level of security and yet, it was clear that someone had tampered with his experiment.  He was not happy.  It would take days, perhaps weeks, to understand how it had been done.  It would require the most meticulous work, and would not be made any easier by the pressure he knew he would come under from the Council as to answers.
            His pressure was exacerbated when another security officer ran into his domain and breathlessly advised him that his remaining five subjects had all escaped.  Fighting down his own fury, he ordered the retrieval team to be deployed and the subjects to be brought back alive.  He amended the order to include deadly force should they prove to be too uncooperative.  The security officer acknowledged the order and bolted from the room.
            With a roar, he spun around and, with his fingernails extended, tore a chunk of marble from one of the columns, which in turn landed on the floor, the force of its’ impact causing it to explode into fragments.  As he fought to regain his control, he was annoyed with himself for making such a mess.  As if his day was not bad enough, he had to add a mess to his clean lab on top of it.  With a final deep breath, he went off in search of a broom.

            Kael put aside the small glass of red liquid.  He found his hunger had deserted him after his guests had left.  Strange.  He had not thought of Gareth in many years.  To see him in the flesh had been welcomed and long overdue.  Kael had been one of the five of nine members of the Representative that had voted to expel him from the Haemocracy.  It saddened him deeply at the time, in spite of his acceptance of their policies.  Mating with a human was simply far too dangerous.
            Kael chuckled.  The progeny – Hamish – was as outrageous and as outspoken as his father had once been.  Not only that, but he was possessed of abilities that Kael would be eager to see demonstrated.  More than that, as a scientist, he was eager to see how the boys’ DNA had successfully and healthily merged the two sets from his parents.  An outcome that would be fulfilled in a day, after their lab had processed the small biological sample that Kael had deliberately taken from the utensils the boy had used. 
            Though underhanded, Kael had a responsibility to the Haemocracy to know.  Never before had such an individual walked the Earth.  The few matings that Kael had been privy to had all ended in either still births or hideously deformed freaks that could have never been mistaken as human.  The Haemocrat DNA was simply too alien to Human DNA.  Haemocrats and Lycans had essentially been inbreeding for thousands of years.  For the average human couple, this would produce any number of genetic deformations resulting in any number of illnesses and malformed offspring.  For his and their allies’ kind it produced only a healthy line of ‘children’ that went back millennia.
            He sighed nostalgically.  It was only in recent time that this sort of disgrace had begun to surface as an issue for the Haemocracy.  Kael longed for the centuries before modern medical technology.  He longed for his old estate in the Loire Valley.  He had long ago sold his chateau and the accompanying vineyards to move to Australia in furtherance of his duties to the Haemocracy.  Kael had served as a member of the board for one of Australia’s most powerful telecommunications companies for the decade previous, as were most of the Representative.  Indeed, there were few technology and medical companies that did not have at least one Haemocrat on their board.  It was vital to the Haemocracy’s interests to have their fingers in those specific pies.  His musing was interrupted by the arrival of the Haemocrat that served as his attached.  Kael looked up.           
            “Yes, Ty?”
            The youthful appearing blonde man nodded respectfully.  “The data sent to us from the CSD has confirmed our own findings.  The mutation is currently being genetically broken down, but it is definitely an attempt to merge the two Houses.”
            Kael shook his head slowly in revulsion.  “It is an abhorrence.”
            Ty nodded slowly.  “Their attempts do not suggest that they will cease their efforts.”
            Kael stood quickly with a grunt of disgust.  “No.  If anything, their failure will simply spur them on to continue refining their ghastly technique.”
            Ty paused uncomfortably before asking the next question.  “If I may ask, are there truly members of the Haemocracy who support the Red Council?”
            Kael turned to look at his charge.  “Indeed.  It is regrettable but true.”  Again, he sighed.  He thought to himself he did that too often of late.  “They are misguided, of course.  But we do not tell our members what to think.  They may support the Red Council – in principle only.  As a Democracy, they are entitled to think what they like.  They may even leave to join them should they please.”
            Ty was openly shocked.  “You would let them go?”
            Kael shrugged.  “What would you have me do?  Chain them?  Bind them?  Imprison them?  Kill them?”
            The younger Haemocrat visibly drew back at the idea of one Haemocrat harming another.  Indeed, it was part of what made the actions of the Red Council so appalling in their eyes.
            Haemocrats were barred from harming another of their own kind.  They were also barred from harming their Lycan sisters.  These two laws, along with the protection of Mankind, formed the very foundation of their societies.  For eight hundred and two years, no Haemocrat had ever harmed another.  The last to do so had only acted in self defence to protect a group of humans who were in danger from the blood lust of a deranged Haemocrat.  Even now, Haemocrats everywhere will pause at the stroke of midnight every March 24th to mourn the act. 
            “What are we going to do, Sir?”  Ty asked gently.
            Kael walked to the window to overlook the fountain splashing outside his study.  “Nothing.  The CSD must be the key player in this event.”
            Ty could not believe what he was hearing.  “They are humans, Sir.  They cannot possibly understand or access the inner workings of the Red Council such as we could.”
            Kael continued to gaze at the dancing fluid without.  “We have no choice.  To openly confront the Red Council could invite a disaster on us all.  We must, as always, protect the Haemocracy from external forces.”
            “Sir,” Ty began, choosing his words carefully, “The CSD, even with its unique agents, will most assuredly fail.  Unquestionably, we should assist them.”
            Kael slowly turned in his chair and looked up to his charge with undisguised shock.  “You would tell me what we must unquestionably do?”
            Ty took a step back and bowed his head.  “My apologies, Sir.  I do not seek to rise above my station.  My concern, as always, is for humanity and their protection.”
            Kael allowed his temper to dissipate.  Truth be told, the younger man was correct.  “Of course, you are right.  And we shall assist them in whatever way we can.  But we will not attempt to penetrate the Red Council.  To do so would lower us to their level.  Understood?”
            Ty bowed in acceptance, then left the room. 
            Kael walked over and sat at his desk.  He picked up his PDA and began scanning the contents of the documents he held on it and it alone.  Given that the device was never out of reach of his person, it was the most secure place he could store such inflammatory information.
            He quickly composed an email that detailed everything the CSD had told him.  He then further attached all the documents they had provided.  When completed he sent it before erasing every trace of its existence on both the PDA and his personal server.  When he was certain that everything had been taken care of, he summoned his steward and requested a new glass of lunch.  The previous had sat for too long.  The two drinks were efficiently swapped and Kael sat back and slowly savoured his lunch. 
            Whilst one issue had been taken care of, yet one more now presented itself - The CSD.  Their involvement would no doubt draw yet more attention to the Red Council, and quite possibly to the bonds it still shared with the Haemocracy.  The information had been closely guarded by all but the most senior of its members, and yet a collection of genetic misfits, an outcast and a couple of humans could potentially discover what he had sought so valiantly to keep hidden for so many years. 
Kael, respected member of the Representative, and one of its most senior advisors, was the Red Council.  The hierarchy of the Red Council reported to Kael and Kael alone.  And Kael would not have it another way.  After all, you don’t change the world without the small changes along the way.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Chapter 6

            When Smith came to, he turned his head to the right.  Unfortunately, he came face to crotch with Hamish’s barely clad mid section.
            “Hamish?”  He asked quietly.
            “Yeah, Smithy?”  Hamish replied in his jovial manner.
            “Would you mind terribly moving your crotch out of my face?”
            Hamish patted the man on the head before standing and leaving the room.  Gentle hands reached out and helped the agent into a sitting position.  It was Theonakis.
            “You’re fine.  You just fainted.”  Theonakis informed him in his quiet voice.
            Smith nodded in thanks, allowing Theonakis to assist him onto his feet.  There was some residual dizziness but there were no other side effects.  Thomas took him by the elbow and led him out of the room and into a small meeting room.  Campbell was the only one that joined them.  Coffee was again brought the same attendant.  This time, Smith’s coffee came with a damp towel and a wink.  His head improved.
            Thomas looked him over.  “How are you Agent Smith?”
            Smith had taken several sips of his coffee and was now placing the cool, damp towel on top of his head.  “Permission to speak freely?”
            Thomas smiled.  “Of course.  But we aren’t the army, you don’t have to ask permission for that.”
            Smith leant back in his chair, breathing out as he did.  “Why am I here?  These people don’t need me.  I just saw a guy hold a car over his head – a car… over his head - another dude stuck to the wall - and I’m not gonna get started on the woman who can control the electromagnetic properties of the atmosphere.  Why am I here?  What can I possibly bring to this team?”
            “Humanity.”  Campbell replied quietly. 
            Thomas was nodding as she placed her cup back on its saucer.  “Exactly.  These are exceptional people, but they don’t play well with others.  Their social skills are minimal at best and they need someone to make the decisions and point the way.  They’re exceptional followers and work well with direction, but make any of them take the lead, and they fall apart.”
            Smith had his eyes closed and move the damp towel covering his brow over his eyes.  “What about the Baroness?”  In reply he heard Campbell splutter his coffee, but it was quickly covered by the young man.
            “The Baroness is a member of the European nobility, and the Leader of some sixty million people.  She gives orders and expects them to be obeyed without question.  She can’t do consensus planning or decision making.”
            Smith nodded slowly.  The now tepid towel was removed and a fresh, cool one took its place.  Smith reminded himself to thank the Attendant later.
            “What am I supposed to do?  I’ve never been a field agent, let alone a leader of field agents.  I don’t know how to organise my own shit, let alone six super-humans.”  There was a resigned tone to his voice.  Almost one of doubt.
            Again, Campbell chuckled.  Smith removed the towel and raised his head to look at the man.  “Something you wanna add, pretty boy?”
            Campbell controlled himself.  “Your profile suggests natural leadership abilities and the lead character in your novels is an exceptional motivator of his men.  Why do you think it’s any different in the real world?”
            “You’re kidding right?”  Smith looked to Thomas.  “You drafted me for this thing based on my novel characters?”
            Thomas gave him a disapproving look.  “Hardly.  But it does show that you understand the fundamentals of leadership.  Now, all you have to do is to put it into practice.”
            “That’s all I have to do?”  Smith asked sarcastically.
            Thomas nodded seriously.  “Yes.  And kill the attitude.  I don’t like it.”
            Smith’s mood sobered.  Thomas was the boss but she wouldn’t make an issue of it, unless she had to, and she just had.  Smith nodded and sat up straighter in his chair.   “Yes, Ma’am.”
            Thomas motioned to the door.  “You might want to go get changed.  You won’t be needing a suit anymore, plus you look like a shower could do you some good.”
            “Yes, Ma’am.”  Smith responded feeling like a school boy who had just been rapped over the knuckles.  He stood and left the room, with no idea where to go.  Thankfully, the Attendant materialised and asked that he follow her.  She led him to the door of the men’s locker room and informed him that he would find his things in a locker with his name on it.  Smith went to say something further when she beat him to it.
            “Sorry.  But no, I don’t date colleagues.”  The attractive brunette said politely.
            Smith spread his hands in defeat.  “I can respect that.”
            She smiled and as she walked away, then looked back over her shoulder.  “Doesn’t mean we can’t have sex though.  A girl has needs.”
            Smith could not help but smile as he turned around and entered the locker room.  Then stopped.  Once again, it was nothing like he was used to.  Here, each person had an alcove to themselves that contained a chaise lounge, a locker, a dressing table, a work area, their own shower cubicle, and ample space for whatever they needed – each alcove was a mini room in itself.  It was richly decorated in stainless steel, heavy wood and marble.  It was more comfortable than Smiths apartment.  Smith reminded himself that this was a part time facility.  He could only imagine what the facilities back in HQ would be like.
            After taking a lengthy, hot shower, Smith changed into jeans and a T-shirt.  As he finished dressing, Campbell entered with a file, it was labelled ‘Red Council’.  Smith lounged back on the chaise and opened the rather thin file in his hands.  He would seek out McCleod with questions later.
            The Red Council had been formed approximately five-hundred years ago by a group of renegade Haemocrats unhappy with the status quo.  Originally, when the Haemocracy and the Pack had realised that they could only breed with each other, they entered into a formal alliance called ‘The Contract’. 
            The Contract had been written to define not only the relationship between the two groups, but also as a list of laws and duties; the primary one being the protection of man.  Clearly, the Red Council had a problem with this.  According to the sketchy summary, a few members of the Haemocracy had a serious problem with protecting those they considered little more than food.  This ultimately led to a schism in the Haemocracy, with a group of some five thousand Haemocrats leaving and establishing the Red Council.
            Information regarding the renegade’s activities appeared minimal at best.  For reasons unknown, the upper echelon on the Haemocracy, known as the Representative, had allowed very little information to escape their possession.  This information appeared to be the most highly protected information within the Haemocracy, next to their origins. 
            Smith continued reading.  One interesting part of the workings of the Haemocracy was that every ten years, general elections were held within the democracy for the nine positions on the Representative.  Any member could put their name forward and every member was expected to participate in the vote.
            For the previous nine years, the Representative had been based in Sydney, in an historic mansion in the upmarket suburb of Woolloomooloo.  According to the file, the Haemocracy was heavily involved in medical supply and research, most notably in research and development with regards to diseases of the blood.  It was hardly surprising.  What was surprising was the number of patents that they held on various pharmaceuticals.  A significant amount of money was generated each year by these patents and the Haemocracy was thus able to live a fairly substantial lifestyle.
            He leant back in his chair and looked to the door at the sound of someone coming into the locker room.  It was Campbell.
            “Agent Smith.  How are you feeling?”  The young man asked politely.
            “Better.  Thank you.”
            Campbell handed Smith a large envelope containing various papers and several keys.
            “What are these?”  Smith asked.
            “The envelope contains the lease to your new residence here in Melbourne; keys for the residence; your CSD personnel forms; security card for HQ; keys for your personal office and locker area; and a security card for all transport in the discharge of your duties?”
            At the last statement, Smith threw a questioning look to the young man.   
            Campbell spoke again.  “Every time you use a company asset, give the security card to the driver or the attendant.  This ensures that you are CSD on CSD business.  We value our security.”
            Smith shrugged.  “What if someone wanted to forge these?”
            Campbell smiled mysteriously.  “I’d like to see them try.”
            The young man then left the room.
            Perusing the documents, Smith saw that his new house was in Port Melbourne and not the Docklands.  He breathed a sigh of relief.  Working near yuppie scum, and living with yuppie scum were two very different things.  He noted that he would have a driver and a car now.  The realisation that he would have his own chauffer, plus the new hefty increase in salary, meant that Agent Smith was now rapidly becoming one of the yuppie scum he most disliked.
            With a groan of displeasure, he dropped the envelope to the floor and settled back into his chaise.  A quick nap to get over the trauma was definitely required.

            The room was decorated in vintage furnishings that were minimal but clearly very expensive.  Chairs were high backed and well padded.  Tables were of heavy, polished wood and richly carved.  The draping was thick velvet, and, like the rest of the room, a deep shade of red.  In place of overhead lighting, extensive candelabras stood around the room.  Dozens of large white candles, their flames gleefully flickering on the wicks, cast a low light that only added to the ambience.
            At one end of the room, there were nine chairs, all exactly the same size as each other.   They sat on a raised dais with several candelabras off to each side.  Behind each chair hung a banner with a symbol in the middle.  Each of the nine symbols were different and represented the function of the individual who sat in front of them.  Currently, the nine individuals seated in each chair were giving their attention to the single Haemocrat who stood before them. 
            He was heavily built and with long, brown, wavy hair that lent him a somewhat bohemian look.  He was handsome and his face, like most Haemocrats, was unlined and youthful, belying his seven hundred years.
            The nine men hung to each and every word of his report.  When he was completed, the nine members of the Representative spent several moments digesting the information. 
            “Has the information been verified?”  One member of the nine asked.
            The member nodded.  “Visually and forensically.”
            “Has the Pack been informed?”  Another of the nine asked.
            The member replied.  “Yes.  All information regarding the event has been hand delivered to their Embassy.”
            The occupant of the middle chair spoke.  “The information provided to the Pack was concise?  Nothing was omitted?”
            The member shook his head.  “No.  They now know what we do.”
            Another member of the nine spoke.  “Thank you.  You may leave.”
            The member bowed deeply before leaving.
            “This is most concerning.”  Middle chair stated.
            “The Representative overestimates the abilities of the Red Council.”  The occupant of the far-left chair replied.
            Middle chair rose and walked down the three steps to the main part of the room.  “I do not believe so.  We have not had a member within the Red Council for many years.  They may have resources unknown to us.”
            “The fact that they have cross-bred the two Houses would certainly indicate resources almost equal to our own.”  Another of the nine remarked.
            The occupant of the far-right chair snorted.  “Their group should be sterilised.  Their existence is in direct defiance of The Contract that we have dutifully followed for six-thousand years.”
            This provoked outrage of those remaining in their seats.
            “You would sanction the elimination of our own?”  One asked incredulously.
            Middle Chair interjected from the floor.  “It is an article of our law that Man must be protected.  One-thousand, eight-hundred and three people fell to this… horror.”  His voice carried a thick revulsion that could not be ignored.  “They are criminals who will ruin not only themselves but the entirety of the Haemocracy.”
            One individual, Second Seat, had thus far contributed nothing to the conversation.  He was one of the most respected members of the Haemocracy.  When he spoke, others listened.  With a thoughtful expression and his hands clasped in front of him, he spoke.
            “It has only been through our Contract with the Pack that we have been able to survive.  Our secrecy is our security.  Man is not yet ready to know that we exist.  Man is but an infant, his civilisation merely a proving ground for his evolution – socially and genetically.  For the time being, Man must not know that we, the Pack, or other variants exist.  It would produce a crisis not seen since the Inquisition.  It would be madness.”
            All were silent as they mulled his words.  Only Middle Chair spoke.
            “Then it is agreed?”
            Second Seat nodded in agreement.  “There is no other choice.”
            Middle Seat sighed.  He went to say something but stopped when their adjutant entered the room.  He whispered to Middle Seat for several seconds before withdrawing.  Middle Seat spoke to the room, but looked to Second Seat.
            “We will be having guests tomorrow.  Perhaps they will assist us.”

            Agent Robert Smith arrived at his old flat in Canberra to find his entire house had been packed for him.  CSD certainly did not waste any time.  Although, if he was honest, he was glad someone else had done it.  It was no joke that moving house was considered one of the most stressful activities someone could do.  He walked from room to room thinking back on his time in the national Capital.  He had actually enjoyed the last ten years.  His job had been interesting and challenging.  Plus, rather than socialise, he had decided to fulfil his goal of writing a novel and submitting it for publishing.  He had no idea at the time that it would prove such a successful side venture.  Two novels, seventy-thousand copies sold later and he was more than pleased.
            His wanderings eventually took him out onto his balcony.  From here he could see Parliament, the National Museum, and Lake Burley-Griffin.  He had sat out here on many a mild evening typing away on his laptop.  It was a pleasant outlook which, by pure coincidence of course, overlooked the apartment complex’s pool.  His phone rang.
            Flipping open his mobile he answered.
            “Robert Smith.”
            “Hey, Rob!”  It was Roberts’s personal trainer and gym buddy. 
            “Hey Nate.  What’s news?”
            The young man spoke in a surprised and happy tone.  “You wouldn’t believe it.  A gym in Melbourne wants me to come down and manage their trainers!”  The young man gushed.  “Apparently, someone down there said something good about me and they checked me out and want me to go down ASAP.”
            Smith was suspicious but kept his voice light.  “That’s really cool, mate.  Which gym you going to?”
            His trainer told him.  It was literally around the corner from Smith’s new residence.
            “How cool is that?”  Nate asked excitedly.
            “Really cool, mate.”  Smith replied before going on to tell him of his own change in job and his reassurance that he would still be able to have Nate as his trainer.  The young man said an excited goodbye and Smith flipped the phone shut.  Thomas was a real piece of work.  One thing was rapidly becoming clear though, she had done everything possible, and some impossible, to get him into the job.  Clearly, she thought highly of him.  He would make certain he did not disappoint her.

            The next morning, he flew to Sydney.  After being met at the airport by a CSD car.  He dutifully handed his transport card to the driver who swiped it on a device no larger than a mobile phone (Smith was tempted to ask whether he got frequent flyer miles.)  He was then driven to the mansion that was the home of the Haemocracy Representative.  He noted with some amusement that another car with Thomas, Hamish and McCleod was arriving at exactly the same time.  He was surprised to see McCleod here, and not Holfensteim.  Given previous conversations, he had assumed that McCleod would not be allowed to enter. 
            Smith walked up to Thomas.  “Nate says hi.”
            She smiled broadly.  “I know how attached you are to him.”
            Smith just shook his head as they approached the security gate.  Hamish spoke briefly to the black suited man who then spoke into an intercom for several seconds.  Almost immediately, the front gate clicked open and the all moved inside. 
            The mansion was old but richly decorated in a minimalist Gothic style.  Smith could not help but smirk at the stereotypical design.  Mind you, for all he knew, the stereotype could have been initiated and maintained by the Haemocracy themselves.  They didn’t call Hollywood the land of the bloodsuckers for nothing he ruminated.
            The group was led into a large meeting room.  Dominating the room was an enormous circular table that could easily seat fifty people or more.  Sunlight streamed in through floor to ceiling French Windows at one end of the room.  On the wall were framed portraits.  Smith surmised that they had been or were people of importance in the Haemocracy.  Sitting in the seats closest to the windows were nine men.  Most appeared to be middle aged but well kept, although there was one with silver hair and matching, closely cropped beard.
            The young man who greeted them bowed to the nine and then left the room, softly closing the door behind him.  As it locked with a click, the silver haired gentlemen stood and indicated chairs with a gesture.
            “Please, be seated.”
            Smith and his colleagues did so.  The chairs were well padded and richly engraved, much like most of the furniture he had seen.
            The silver haired man looked to McCleod and smiled.  It was warm and welcoming.  It shocked the hell out of Smith.  This was not the welcome he expected.          “And our wayward brother returns to the fold.  Or is this just a visit?” 
            “Good Morning, Kael.”  McCleod replied equally as warm.  “Today I am visiting; my return to the fold is up to the Representative.”
            Kael went to reply but was rudely interrupted by another of the nine.
            “You bred with a human.”  His tone was one of pure disgust.
            McCleod, however, did not rise to the bait.  He replied with a voice devoid of emotion.  “I bred with a Genex.  The product of our union sits before you now, Mason.”
            “You had NO RIGHT!”  Mason practically shouted.
            McCleod simply looked at the man.  “No, I didn’t.  But I cannot choose whom I love.  Besides, she is worthy of inclusion.  As is our son.”
            “You bred with a Genex.  The mother of a mongrel and the mongrel are unworthy of inclusion into our House.”
            Mason looked on the verge of apoplexy.  Kael merely held up a hand before him, silencing him before he could continue the rant.  He turned back to McCleod.  “We shall consider your return.”  Kael turned to look at Hamish.  “The mongrel.”  Kael said without any inflection, clearly just stating a fact.  “And what is your name, young man?”
            “Hamish Roth-McCleod.”  Hamish replied seriously.  Smith prayed that the irreverent young man would behave himself.
            “You are unique.  And you are of Haemocrat blood.”  Kael smiled.  “We welcome you into the Democracy.”
            Hamish, surprisingly, stood and bowed deeply.  Perhaps McCleod had schooled the young man.  “I am honoured.”  Hamish’s expression became resolute.  Smith almost groaned out loud at what he surmised was coming.  “But I will not be included at this table without my Sire.”  Hamish indicated his father with a sweep of his hand.
            Kael nodded.  “Then we will make certain that our deliberations are quick.”
            Hamish bowed again.  “I appreciate that.”  The young man took his seat.
            Kael sat down and looked to Thomas.  “We were surprised to receive the communication from the Baroness.  We were also saddened by the events at Williams.  We grieve for the loss of innocent life.”
            Thomas inclined her head.  “Thank you.  I trust you have your own intelligence regarding the event?”           
            Kael nodded.  “We do.  My agent confirmed the particulars.”  Kael’s face clouded.  “It was an abhorrent act of destruction.”
            Thomas nodded in acceptance.  “Indeed, it was.  However, I am more concerned about future events.”
            “You believe this will happen again?”  The member to Kael’s immediate left ask.
            “You have charge of many research projects, Mathias.”  McCleod replied pointedly.  “Have you ever been content with just one test?”
            Representative Mathias looked sharply to Thomas.  “You believe this event was a test?”
            “It had all the trimmings.”  Thomas replied ticking the items off on her fingers.  “Isolated location.  Diversity of subjects.  Easy containment.  That’s how I would have done it.”
            “Coincidence?”  Mason replied caustically.  Smith was starting to really dislike the man.
            “Actually,” Smith interjected in a trite tone.  “We’ll completely ignore the possibility if you can provide an answer for us regarding one small question.”
            Mason all but sneered at Smith.  “Ask your question human.”
            Smith leant forward.  “I preferred to be called Agent Smith, if you please?  My question is how do you kill all the insect life in an isolated rural town?”
            Another member of the nine, a man who looked barely out of his teens spoke.  “All of the insect life?”
            Smith nodded and slid a file across the desk to the man.  “All of it, to a distance of ten kilometres outside the town.”
            The Haemocrat picked up the file and began reading.  It didn’t take him long.  Unfortunately, the forensics team had not been able to discover much more than they had already known. 
            Kael gestured to the man.  “Saxon is our chief scientist.  One of his many specialties is entomology.”
            Saxon closed the file and put his hand on top of it.  “This should not have happened.”
            “There was a pervasive EM disturbance within the town.”  Hamish pointed out.
            Saxon leant back in his chair.  “An EM field might keep out one species, maybe two, but it should not keep out all of them.”
            “And that doesn’t count the ones that were there.”  Smith explained.  “It appears we had a strain of anthrax that killed everything in a single location.  Everything.”
            Saxon was shaking his head.  “That just isn’t possible.  Even the most virulent strain will only kill ninety-five percent of a population.  And that’s ignoring the fact that insects, whilst acting as carriers, would not become infected.”
            “You can get a virus or bacteria to do almost anything, if you engineer it right.”  Hamish pointed out.
            Many of the Representative were outwardly horrified by the report.  Kael, however, seemed coolly reserved.
            “We believe it the work of the Red Council.”  He stated.
            Mason interrupted.  “We are considering that it might be the work of the Red Council.  I have not heard a resolution yet.”
            “Are you really that na├»ve?”  Hamish butted in.  Smith practically dug his nails into the arm rest of his chair.  Jesus, kid he thought.
            Representative Mason was on his feet in a millisecond.  “How dare you, mongrel.”  His tone was dangerously quiet.
            Hamish gave the man a look of concentrated pithiness.  “Sticks and stones can’t break my bones, so you can appreciate how I feel about names, Darl.”  He gave the statement a second to sink in before continuing over the top of the man.  “The Red Council is new to the game.  They might have the tech but I’m guessing that they’re low on intellectual resources.  They spent years cutting and splicing the genetics of this bug.  What else would they do but test it?  They can’t just let it loose in case it kills them too.  They need to see what it would do and how and to who.  And, they needed to do that before the real objective.”
            “And that would be what, mongrel?”  Mason asked cuttingly.
            Hamish shrugged.  “No clue, love.  If I want to get inside someone’s head, I crush it.”
            Mason returned to his seat, glaring unhappily at the flamboyant Hamish.  Kael, however, appeared highly amused.
            “Your abilities must be impressive.”  He said.
            Hamish smiled at the older man.  “I’ve got some skills.”
            Kael chuckled.  “In spite of Mason’s reaction to you, I will welcome you here anytime.”  His face then became serious as he addressed Director Thomas.  “And the CSD?”
            “I’ll be meeting with my counterparts this afternoon.  I am hoping that further information will be forthcoming.”
            “May we request any and all such information be shared with us?”
            “Of course.”  Thomas agreed.  She appeared momentarily uncomfortable but quickly covered it.  “May I ask if the Representative will be equally as forthcoming?”
            Kael agreed over the spluttering of Representative Mason.  “We shall do all we can.  This is a common threat.  It requires a common response.”
            With that, the meeting broke up.  Kael and Saxon invited their guests to morning tea with them.  Smith’s stomach started to churn at what exactly that meant.
            Thankfully, it was a proper service of coffee and cake offered to the CSD members.  The Haemocrat Representatives clearly preferred not to ingest in front of outsiders.  The coffee was excellent and the banana cake sweet and heavy.
            “How is the food, Agent Smith?”  Kael asked.
            “Very nice.”  He replied politely.
            Kael was openly smiling now.  “We may not eat it ourselves, but we understand the needs of our guests.”
            “When do you eat?”  Hamish asked.
            Kael looked approvingly at the young man.  He was clearly impressed with him.  “We partake in private.”
            Hamish looked intrigued, but chose not to pursue it.
            Kael sighed.  “I apologise for the behaviour of my colleague.  He is uncomfortable with Man and indeed, I believe him to be fearful of you.”
            “How could he be afraid of Smithy here?  He’s adorable!”  Hamish gushed, simultaneously spraying cake crumbs.
            Saxon laughed openly at the remark, before continuing.  “We do not fear you.  We fear the mob.”
            “As in pitch-forks and torches?”  Smith asked incredulously.
            Both Kael and Saxon laughed.  “No, no, Agent Smith.”  Kael responded.  “Not the mobs of lore, but the general population.  They are unable to cope with even the smallest amount of diversity.  To add us into the equation would be… catastrophic.”
            “Do you have an agent inside the Red Council?”  Thomas asked.
            Kael shook his head.  “Not for many years.”
            “How many agents does the Red Council have in the Haemocracy?”  Smith asked carefully.
            Both Kael and Saxon looked uneasy at the thought.  Smith was surprised at the honesty being presented to people thought of as outsiders.  It held some positive hope for future dealings. 
            “There are no Red Council agents here.”  Kael replied.
            Smith was shaking his head.  “My apologies, Sir, but if it was me, I’d have a dozen agents inside your upper echelons, all reporting back to me on a daily basis.”
            Kael fell back into his chair.  The older man seemed possessed of a genuine disbelief that the Haemocracy could be targeted.  Unfortunately for Kael and the Haemocracy, hatred could and did lead to unspeakable acts.
            “I didn’t mean to sound disrespectful, Sir.” Smith began.  “But this Red Council doesn’t seem to be interested in playing by the rules.  I am certain you will be attacked.”
            “Listen to Smithy, Love.”  Hamish started with Kael.  “We understand that you play nice.  But you didn’t see with your own eyes what we saw in Williams.  It was pretty gruesome stuff, and I’ve got a pretty strong stomach.  These buggers need to be taken down.  If we don’t, it’s going to end up as six pounds of shit in a half-pound bag with all of Hell looking for a pot to piss in.”
            Smith groaned outwardly.  The kid could not keep his mouth shut.
            Director Thomas, however, seemed amused with Hamish.  “Hamish may have a colourful vocabulary,” she started with a side-long look at the young man.  “But he does have a point.  We need a response to this Red Council.”
            Kael and Saxon shared a look of discomfort.  It was not lost on Thomas.
            “Gentlemen?”  She gently prodded.
            Kael sighed as Saxon responded.  “There are a small group of Haemocrats who believe the Red Council should be left alone and encouraged to leave Man alone, with an appropriate offer of isolation.”
            “Mason.”  McCleod stated.  Everyone else was thinking it.
            Kael nodded.  “There are those who believe the Red Council to be a simple and misguided group.”
            “I would doubt that.”  McCleod replied.
            Kael nodded.  “As would I, I do not believe that they could be persuaded to leave Man alone.”
            Saxon continued.  “In times past there has usually been a few who believe that our Contract to leave Man alone, to protect Humanity, was misguided.  They believe we are the next rung on the evolutionary ladder and to view Man as simply as Man views a cow.”
            “Meat.”  McCleod stated with disgust.
            Saxon tilted his head to one side.  “That is an odd statement from a hunter.”
            McCleod stiffened in anger.  “I hunt to enact justice.  I do not hunt with impunity like the Red Council would want us to.”
            Kael shrugged.  “They would say you are indulging your instinct and your heritage as a Haemocrat.  Either way, we do not hunt Man, especially when we have other methods at our disposal.”
            “What are those?”  Hamish asked, clearly curious.
            “There is a reason we own abattoirs in most countries in the world.”  Kael responded.  “We keep the blood, and sell the carcasses.”
            “Wow.  That’s gross.”  Hamish commented, scrunching his nose up.
            Kael simply nodded to the point.  “For some, yes, it is.”
            “For the Red Council, definitely.”  Thomas commented as her PDA beeped.  She retrieved it from the case at her belt and read it.  She looked to Smith.  “Our meeting just got moved up.”