While Rio wrapped up his recon report, Gideon executed a quick binary code program, using the flip toggles to load the instructions into the processor. The machine's capacity was limited, its functions even more so, but the technology of it all fascinated him and his mind was forever thirsty for new knowledge, no matter the subject.
"Good work, everyone," Lucan said, as the meeting started to wrap up. He glanced at Tegan, the big, tawny-haired warrior at the opposite end of the table. "If Rio's intel shakes out, we could be looking at a nest of upwards of a dozen suckheads. Gonna need all hands on deck down there tonight to clear the place out."
Tegan stared for a moment, green eyes as hard as gemstones. "You want me to go in, take the nest out, say so. It'll be done. But you know I work alone."
Lucan glowered back, anger flashing amber in the cool gray of his gaze. "You clear the nest, but you do it with backup. You got a death wish, deal with it on your own time."
For several long moments, the war room held an uneasy silence. Tegan's mouth twisted, his lips parting to bare just the tips of his fangs. He growled low in his throat, but he didn't escalate the power struggle any further. Good thing, because God knew if the two Gen One warriors ever went at each other in a true contest, there would be no easy victor.
Like the rest of the warriors gathered around the table, Gideon knew about the bad blood between Lucan and Tegan. It centered on a female--Tegan's long-dead Breedmate, Sorcha, who'd been taken from him back in the Order's early days. Tegan lost her first, tragically, to an enemy who turned her Minion and left her worse than dead. But it was by Lucan's hand that Sorcha perished, an act of mercy for which Tegan might never forgive him.
It was a grim but potent reminder of why most of the warriors refused to take a mate. Of those currently serving the Order, only Rio and Conlan had Breedmates. Eva and Danika were strong females; they had to be. Although the Breed was close to immortal and very hard to kill, death was a risk on every mission. And worry for Breedmates being left behind to grieve was a responsibility few of the warriors wanted to accept.
Duty permitted no distractions.
It was a tenet Gideon had learned the hard way. A mistake he couldn't take back, no matter how much he wished he could.
No matter how many Rogues he ashed, his guilt stayed with him.
On a low, muttered curse, Gideon yanked his thoughts out of the past and entered the last string of his programming code into the computer. He flipped the switch that would execute the commands, and waited.
At first nothing happened. Then...
"Bloody brilliant!" he crowed, staring in triumphant wonder as the red LED lights on the front panel of the processor illuminated in an undulating wave pattern--just as his program had instructed them to. The warriors all looked at him with varying expressions, everything from confusion to possible concern for his mental wellbeing. "Will you look at this? It's a thing of fucking beauty."
He spun the processor around on the table for them to see the technological miracle taking place before their eyes. When no one reacted, Gideon barked out an incredulous laugh. "Come on, it's remarkable. It's the bloody future."
Dante smirked from his seat across the table. "Just what we needed, Gid. A light-up bread box."
"This bread box is a not-yet-released tabletop computer." He took the metal lid off so everyone could see the boards and circuitry inside. "We're talking 8-bit processor and 256-byte memory, all in this compact design."
From farther down the table, Rio came out of a casual sprawl in his chair and leaned forward to have a better look. There was humor in his rolling Spanish accent. "Can we play Pong on it?" He and Dante chuckled. Even Con joined in after a moment.
"One day, you'll stand in awe of what technology will do," Gideon told them, refusing to let them dampen his excitement. No matter how big of a geek he was being. He gestured to an adjacent closet-like room where years earlier he'd begun setting up a control center of mainframes that ran many of the compound's security and surveillance systems, among other things. "I can envision a day when that room full of refrigerator-sized processors will be a proper tech lab, with enough computer power to keep a small city up and running."
"Okay, cool. Whatever you say," Dante replied. His broad mouth quirked. "But in the meantime, no Pong?"
Gideon gave him a one-fingered salute, smiling in spite of himself. "Wankers. Bunch of hopeless wankers."
Lucan cleared his throat and brought the meeting back on track. "We need to start ramping up patrols. I'd like nothing better than to rid Boston completely of Rogues, but that still leaves other cities in need of clean-up. Sooner or later, things keep going like they are, we're gonna need to evaluate our options."
"What are you saying, Lucan?" Rio asked. "You talking about bringing on new members?"
He gave a vague nod. "Might not be a bad idea at some point."
"The Order started with eight," Tegan said. "We've held steady at six for a long time now."
"Yeah," Lucan agreed. "But things sure as hell aren't getting any better out there. We may need more than eight of us in the long run."
Conlan braced his elbows on the edge of the table, sent a look around to everyone seated with him. "I know of a guy who'd be a good candidate as any, I reckon. Siberian-born. He's young, but he's solid. Might be worth talking to him."
Lucan grunted. "I'll keep it in mind. Right now, priority is taking care of business at home. Six Rogues ashed last night and another nest in our crosshairs is a decent place to start."
"Decent, yes," Gideon interjected. "But not nearly enough for my liking."
Rio gave a low whistle. "Only thing sharper than your mind, amigo, is your hatred for Rogues. If I ever fall, I'd not want to find myself at the end of your blade."
Gideon didn't acknowledge the observation with anything more than a grim look in his comrade's direction. He couldn't deny the depth of his need to eradicate the diseased members of their species. His enmity went back about two centuries. Back to his beginnings in London.
Dante eyed him speculatively from across the table. "Counting the suckheads you took out last night, how many kills does that make for you, Gid?"
He shrugged. "Couple hundred, give or take."
Inwardly, Gideon did a quick tally: Two-hundred and seventy-eight since coming to Boston in 1898. Another forty-six Rogues lost their heads on the edge of his sword, including the three who slaughtered his baby brothers.
He could no longer picture the boys' faces, or hear their laughter. But he could still taste the ash from the fire as he tried desperately to pull them out of the burning stable the night they were killed. Gideon had been hunting Rogues ever since, trying to douse his guilt. Trying to find some small degree of redemption for how he'd failed to protect them.
He wasn't even close.
Savannah took the T in to the university campus from her apartment in Allston, still groggy and in dire need of coffee. She'd had a restless night's sleep, to put it mildly. Too many disturbing dreams. Too many unsettling questions swirling in her head after what she'd witnessed by touching that damned sword. She'd been more awake than not for most of the night.
It hadn't helped that Rachel never made it home from her date with Professor Keaton. Of course, that had been her intention. Hadn't she said as much yesterday? Nevertheless, Savannah had lain awake in her bedroom of the cramped little apartment, listening for her roommate to return. Worrying that Rachel was getting in over her head with a guy like Professor Keaton, a much older man who made no secret of his willingness to play the field. Or, in his case, a large part of the female student body.
Savannah didn't want to see her friend get hurt. She knew firsthand what it felt like to be played by someone she trusted, and it was a lesson she hoped never to repeat. Besides, Rachel would probably only laugh off Savannah's concern. She'd call her a mother hen--too reserved and serious for her age--things Savannah had heard before from other people throughout her life.
Truth be told, part of her was a little envious of Rachel's free spirit. While Savannah had fretted and worried the night away, Rachel was probably having a great time with Professor Keaton. Correction: Bill, she amended with a roll of her eyes, trying not to imagine her roommate gasping out Professor Keaton's name in the throes of passion.
God, how she was going to get through class today without the involuntary--totally unwanted--mental picture of the pair of them naked together?
Savannah rounded the corner onto the university campus on Commonwealth Avenue, still considering the potential awkwardness of it all when the sight of police cruisers and a parked ambulance with its lights flashing in front of the Art History building stopped her short. A pair of reporters and a camera crew jumped out of a news van to push their way through a gathering crowd outside.
What on earth...?
She hurried over, a heavy dread rising in her throat. "What's going on?" she asked a fellow student toward the rear of the onlookers.
"Someone attacked one of the Art History profs in his office late last night. Sounds like he's in real bad shape."
"At least he's alive," someone else added. "More than you can say for the student who was with him."
Savannah's heart sank to her stomach, as cold as a stone. "A student?" No, not Rachel. It couldn't be. "Who is it?"
The reply came from another person nearby. "Some chick in his freshman Antiquities class. Rumor is they were engaged in a little extracurricular activity up in his office when the shit went down."
Savannah's feet were moving underneath her, carrying her toward the building entrance, before she even realized she was in motion. She ran inside, dodging the cops and university officials trying to keep the growing crowd outside and under control.
"Miss, no one's allowed in the building right now," one of the police officers called to her as she dashed for the stairwell. She ignored the command, racing as fast as she could up the three flights of steps and down the corridor toward Professor Keaton's office.
The news crew she saw arrive a few minutes ago hovered in the hallway, cameras rolling as the police and paramedics worked just inside the open door. As she drew nearer, a stretcher was wheeled out into the corridor with a patient being administered to by one of the ambulance attendants.
Professor Keaton lay unconscious as they pushed his gurney toward the elevators, his face and neck covered in blood, his skin bone-white above the blanket that covered him up to his chin. Savannah stood there, immobile with shock, as Keaton was whisked off to the hospital.
"Coming through!" a gruff Boston accent shouted from behind her. She jolted back to attention, and took a step aside as another gurney was pushed out of the professor's office.
There were no medics attending this patient. No urgency in the way the emergency responders wheeled the stretcher into the hallway and began an unrushed march toward the second bank of elevators. Savannah brought her hand up over her mouth to hold back the choked cry that bubbled in her throat.
Oh, Rachel. No.
Her petite body was draped completely in a sheet mottled with dark red stains. One of her arms had slid out from under the cover to hang limply over the side of the gurney. Savannah stared in mute grief, unable to tear her gaze away from that lifeless hand and the dozen-plus bangle bracelets gathered at Rachel's wrist, sticky with her blood.
Reeling in disbelief and horror, Savannah stumbled into the professor's office, her stomach folding in on itself.
"Outta here now, everybody!" one of the police detectives working inside ordered. He put a hand on Savannah's shoulder as she slumped forward and held her midsection, trying not to lose her breakfast. "Miss, you need to leave now. This is a crime scene."
"She was my roommate," Savannah murmured, tears choking her. Nausea rose at the sight of the blood that sprayed the wall near Professor Keaton's desk and sofa. "Why would someone do this? Why would they kill her?"
"That's what we're trying to find out here," the cop said, his voice taking on a more sympathetic tone. "I'm sorry about your friend, but you're gonna have to let us do our work now. I'd like to talk to you about when you last saw your roommate, so please wait outside."
As he spoke, the news crew seemed to think it was the opportune time to crowd in with their camera. The reporter inserted himself between Savannah and the officer, shoving his microphone at the detective. "Do you have any indication of what happened in here? Was it a random break-in? Robbery? Or some kind of personal attack? Should the campus be concerned for the safety of its students and faculty?"
The cop narrowed his eyes on the vulture with the mic and heaved an annoyed sigh. "Right now, we have no reason to believe anyone else is in danger. There are no signs of forced entry, nor any obvious evidence of a struggle beyond what occurred here in this office. Although it doesn't appear anything was stolen, we can't rule out theft as a motive until we've had a chance to fully review and process the scene...."
Savannah couldn't listen to any more. She drifted out of Keaton's office and into the adjacent study lab where she, Rachel and the other students had been working less than twenty-four hours ago. She dropped into a chair at one of the work tables, feeling outside her own body as the discussion of Rachel's murder and Professor Keaton's narrow escape continued in the blood-splattered office.
Savannah's gaze roamed aimlessly over the reference materials stacked on the lab tables, then over toward the archive storage room. The door was wide open, but no cops or university officials were inside.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com