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Authors: Scott G. Mariani

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BOOK: Uprising
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On the approach to the docks, the beat of a helicopter thudded through the chill evening air.

Eight sailors of mixed Romanian and Czech origin were assembled around the helipad on the forward deck, craning their necks skywards at the approaching aircraft. At their feet lay a row of five steel-reinforced crates, seven feet long, all identical, unmarked, that had been wheeled up from the hold. Most of the crew preferred to keep their distance from them. The strong downdraught from the chopper’s rotors tore at the men’s clothing and hair as its pilot brought it down to land on the pad.

‘Okay, boys, let’s get these bastard things off our ship,’ the senior crewman yelled over the noise as the chopper’s cargo hatch slid open.

‘I’d love to know what the hell’s inside them,’ said one of the Romanians.

‘I don’t fucking want to know,’ someone else replied. ‘All I can say is I’m glad to be shot of them.’

There wasn’t a man aboard who hadn’t felt the sense of unease that had been hanging like a pall over the vessel since they’d left the Romanian port of Constantza. It hadn’t been a happy voyage. Five of the hands were sick below decks, suffering from some kind of fever that the ship’s medic couldn’t identify. The radio kept talking about the major flu pandemic that had much of Europe in its grip – maybe that was it. But some of the guys were sceptical. Flu didn’t wake you up in the middle of the night screaming in terror.

The crewmen heaved each crate onto the chopper and then stepped back from the blast as the cargo was strapped into place. The hatch slammed shut, the rotors accelerated to a deafening roar, and the chopper took off.

A handful of the ship’s crew remained on deck and watched the aircraft’s twinkling lights disappear into the mist that overhung the city skyline. One quickly made the sign of the cross over his chest, and muttered a prayer under his breath. He was a devout Catholic, and his faith was normally the butt of many jokes on board.

Today, though, nobody laughed.

Crowmoor Hall

Near Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

Forty miles away, the gnarled figure of Seymour Finch stepped out of the grand entrance of the manor house. He raised his bald head and peered up at the sky. The stars were out, seeming dead and flat through the ragged holes in the mist that curled around the mansion’s gables and clung to the lawns.

Finch couldn’t stop grinning to himself, though his big hands were quaking in fear as he nervously, impatiently awaited the arrival of the helicopter. He glanced at his watch.

Soon. Soon.

Eventually he heard the distant beat of approaching rotor blades. He rubbed his hands together. Took out a small radio handset and spoke into it.

‘He’s coming. He’s here.’

Chapter Two

The Carpathian Mountains, Northern Romania

October 31

It was getting dark when Alex Bishop emerged from the path that cut through the woods and spotted the old tumbledown house across the clearing. She just hoped that her informant had been right. Lives were on the line.

She quickly checked the equipment she was carrying on her belt and unsnapped the retaining strap on the holster. The steps on the porch were rotten and she stepped over them, treading carefully. The peeling front door swung open with a creak and she could smell the stench of rot and fungus.

Inside, the house was all in shadow. Alex stepped in, peering into the darkness. The door creaked shut behind her. The red-orange glow of the sinking sun was receding fast across the cobwebbed window panes.

Her sharp ears caught something. Was that a thump from somewhere below her feet? She stiffened. Something was moving around down there. She followed the sound through the front hall towards a doorway. A rat, startled by her approach, darted into the deepening shadows.

A muffled yell from behind the door. Then another. Shrill, scared, all hell breaking loose.

Someone had got here before her.

She kicked the door open with a brittle cracking and splintering, and found herself at the top of a flight of stone steps leading down to the cellar. She wasn’t alone.

From her hidden vantage point at the top of the stairs, Alex took in the situation at a glance. Three young guys in their twenties. One lay writhing in a spreading, dark pool of blood. Two were still on their feet, one clutching a wooden cross, the other holding a mallet in one hand and a stake in the other. Both howling in panic, wild, demented, as the cellar’s other occupant rose up from their friend’s body and took a step towards them. His mouth opened to show the extended fangs.

Vampire.

The guy holding the cross rushed forward with a yell and thrust it in the vampire’s face. It was a brave thing to do – textbook horror movie heroics – but foolish. If he’d been expecting the vampire to cover its face and hiss and shrink away, he was in for a shock.

The vampire didn’t blink an eye. Alex had known he wouldn’t. Instead, he reached out and jerked his attacker brutally off his feet. Pulled him in and bit deep into his shoulder. The young guy fell twitching to the ground, blood jetting from his ripped throat.

There was nowhere for the remaining guy to run as the vampire turned his attention to him and backed him towards the corner of the cellar. The young man had dropped his mallet and stake and cowered against the rough wall, pleading for his life.

The vampire stepped closer to him. Then stopped and turned as Alex walked calmly down the cellar steps. He stared at her, and his bloodstained mouth fell open. Recognition in his eyes.

‘Surprise,’ she said. She reached down and drew the Desert Eagle from its holster.

The vampire snarled. ‘Federation scum. Your time is over.’

‘Not before yours,’ she said.

And fired. The explosion was deafening in the room. Even in Alex’s strong grip, the large-calibre pistol recoiled hard.

The vampire screamed. Not because of the bullet that had ripped a fist-sized hole in his chest, but because of the instant devastating effect of the Nosferol on his system – the lethal anti-vampire poison developed by the Federation’s chemists and issued under strict control to VIA field agents like Alex Bishop.

The vampire collapsed to the cellar floor, writhing in agony, staring at his hands as the blood vessels began to bulge out of the skin. His face swelled grotesquely, eyes popping out of their sockets. Then blood burst out of his mouth, and his hideously distended veins exploded in a violent spatter of red that coated the floor and the stone wall behind him. Alex turned away from the spray. The vampire continued to twitch for a second, his body peeled apart, turned almost inside out, blood still spurting out from everywhere; then he lay still.

Alex holstered the gun and walked over to the young guy in the corner, grabbed his arm and hauled him to his feet.

He gaped at her. ‘How did you—’

She could see that he had wet himself with fear. These amateurs had no idea what they were into.

‘It takes a vampire to destroy a vampire properly,’ she said as she unzipped the pouch on her belt. Before he could react to the meaning of her words, she’d taken out the syringe of Vambloc and jabbed it into the vein under his ear. He let out a wheezing gasp and then lost consciousness. By the time he came around, his short-term memory of what had just happened would be completely erased.

Alex replaced the Vambloc syringe and took out the one that was loaded with Nosferol. Leaving the young guy where he lay, she stepped over to his two dead friends and injected each of them with ten millilitres of the clear liquid. Standard procedure, to ensure they stayed dead. She carefully recapped the needle with a cork and put the syringe back into its pouch.

Two minutes later she was heading back out into the evening with the unconscious body over her shoulder. As she strode out of the house she tossed a miniature incendiary device into the doorway behind her. She was halfway to the trees before the whole place went up in a roar of flame, bathing the murky woods in an orange glow.

Hiding the traces of another day’s work.

‘Rest in peace,’ she muttered. She took out her phone, keyed in Rumble’s number at the London HQ.

‘Harry. You were right. It’s happening.’

Chapter Three

The Oxfordshire countryside, five miles from

Henley-on-Thames

The same night, 12.05 a.m.

‘Come back here, Kate!’

But she was already out of the car and trudging over the rough grass towards the road.

‘Piss off,’ she fired back over her shoulder as she stamped away. Dec thumped the steering wheel and swore loudly.

Kate was fuming as she reached the road and kept walking. No way she was getting back in that car. She’d walk all the way back home to Wallingford if she had to.

If she was angry with Dec Maddon, she was even angrier with herself for having accepted the boy next door’s invitation to go out for a drive. She liked him, she really did. But when he’d suddenly produced the little white pills and offered her one, she’d got scared. Scared of getting into trouble. Scared that he was trying to get her into a state where she’d have sex with him.

And scared that she’d give in. He was a few months older than her, not far off his eighteenth birthday. Better looking than any of the boys at school, and he drove a Golf GTI. He was exciting and wild. Maybe a little too wild. Kate drew the line at taking drugs.

She walked on as fast as her wobbly heels would let her. Shivering now, feeling the dampness of the mist and wishing she’d put on something heavier than the flimsy cotton top – but refusing to regret that she’d got out of the car.

It was a couple of minutes later when she saw the headlights coming up behind her. She turned and put out her thumb. The car sounded its horn at her and drove on. She did the V’s at the disappearing taillights. ‘Wanker!’

She kept walking. The dark empty road was spooky, but she didn’t care. So what if it was Hallowe’en? She wasn’t a kid any more. She was more concerned about the cold. Really getting to her now.

Then, a little further up the road, she saw another car approaching. She was about to put her thumb out again when it signalled and pulled up. She trotted over to it. Big square headlights, the luxuriant purr of a very expensive car. She noticed the Rolls-Royce radiator grille as she walked up close. The driver’s window whirred down.

Kate peered inside. ‘Thanks for stopping,’ she said.

Dec Maddon sat there muttering angrily to himself and slapping his forehead with his palm. What an eejit, blowing it like that. His dad was gonna kill him if this got back. The ecstasy pills were a new thing – in fact he’d never even touched the stuff in his life before deciding it would be a cool thing to try tonight with Kate – but of course nobody would believe him. He was in the deepest shit imaginable. Kate probably wouldn’t want to talk to him again, and her stuck-up bitch of a mother would have a field day.

He’d been crazy about Kate Hawthorne ever since his family had bought the house next door. She was beautiful, with china-blue eyes, tumbling red curls that looked like something out of an old painting and a smile that made his day – and up until now he’d been pretty sure the signals she’d been putting out meant she kind of liked him too. Trust him to go and fuck it all up.

He sat there fulminating for a few minutes before he decided to follow her. He’d explain. She’d understand…he hoped.

He started the car and bumped over the verge onto the country road, turning right to head back towards home. The mist drifted in his headlights. He was certain he’d spot her pretty quickly.

And he did. But she wasn’t alone. She was just getting into a black Rolls that was pulled over at the side of the road. She shut the door behind her, and the big car moved off.

Dec followed it for a few miles. The mist was rapidly thickening, and he was so focused on tailing the Rolls that he began to lose all sense of direction. They were deep into the winding country lanes now, way off his normal routes. After a while, the Rolls indicated left and glided through a tall gateway. Automatic gates closed behind it, blocking him out.

He parked the Golf at the side of the road. His breath was misting in the cool night air as he walked up to the gates and ran his hand down the cold wrought iron bars. He looked up.

Two giant birds were peering down at him out of the drifting fog. He stared up at their curved beaks and great wings, and it was a moment before he realised he was looking at stone statues perched on the gateposts. The way their eyes seemed to bore into him made him strangely uneasy. He looked away from them, and that was when he noticed the tarnished bronze plaque on the craggy wall. He had to pull away some of the moss sprouting over the stonework to read it.

CROWMOOR HALL.

What was this place? Some kind of stately home, he thought. Some rich guy’s place. What was Kate doing here?

Face it, Dec. You’re just not her class. She’s a solicitor’s daughter and you’re just a mechanic like your dad.

He was about to walk away, but then felt a powerful urge to go in there and have it out with her. He couldn’t let things end like this.

He started climbing the high wall.

Chapter Four

Jericho, North Oxford

Joel Solomon awoke with a gasp and jerked bolt upright in his bed. For a moment the night terror still gripped him, before he remembered where he was. This wasn’t eighteen years ago. This was here and now, and he was home in his ground-floor flat in the peaceful street on the edge of the city. Everything was all right.

The luminous hands of his bedside clock told him it was 12.34 a.m. He rubbed his face, blinking to clear away the remnants of his nightmare. When his heart eventually stopped thudding, he sank his head back into the pillow and closed his eyes, inviting sleep to return.

But it wouldn’t. He knew it couldn’t, not now.

BOOK: Uprising
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