The gates of the university were shut, locked, and there were paramilitarystyle men posted at the gates, all in black. Armed. Eve coasted the big car slowly up to them and rolled down the window.
"Delivery for Michael Glass," she called. "Or Richard Morrell."
The guard who leaned in was huge, tough, and intimidating--until he saw Hannah in the backseat, and then he grinned like a kid with a new puppy. "Hannah Montana!"
She looked deeply pained. "Don't ever call me that again, Jessup, or I will gut you."
"Get out and make me stop, Smiley. Yeah, I heard you were back. How were the marines?"
"Better than the damn rangers."
"Don't you just wish?" He lost the smile and got serious again. "Sorry, H, orders are orders. Who sent you? Who's with you?"
"Oliver sent me. You probably know Eve Rosser--that's Claire Danvers."
"Really? Huh. Thought she'd be bigger. Hey, Eve. Sorry, didn't recognize you right off. Long time, no see." Jessup nodded to the other guard, who slung his rifle and pressed in a key code at the panel on the stone fence. The big iron gates slowly parted. "You be careful, Hannah. This town's the AfPak border all over again right now."
Inside, except for the guards patrolling the fence, Texas Prairie University seemed eerily normal. The birds sang to the rising sun, and there were students out--students!--heading to class as if there were nothing wrong at all. They were chatting, laughing, running to make the crosscampus earlymorning bell.
"What the hell?" Eve said. Claire was glad she wasn't the only one freaked out by it. "I know they had orders to keep things low profile, but damn, this is ridiculous. Where's the dean's office?"
Claire pointed. Eve steered the car around the winding curves, past dorms and lecture halls, and pulled it to a stop on the nearly deserted lot in front of the Administration Building. There were two police cruisers there, and a bunch of black Jeeps. Not a lot of civilian cars in the lot.
As they walked up the steps to the building, Claire realized there were two more guards outside of the main door. Hannah didn't know these guys, but she repeated their names and credentials, and after a brief, impersonal search, they were allowed inside.
The last time Claire had been here she'd been adding and dropping classes, and the building had been full of grumpy bureaucrats and anxious students, all moving at a hectic pace. Now it was very quiet. A few people were at their desks, but there were no students Claire could see, and the TPU employees looked either bored or nervous. Most of the activity seemed centered down the carpeted hall, which was hung with formal portraits of the former university deans and notables.
One or two of the former deans, Claire was just now realizing, might have been vampires, from the pallor of their skins. Or maybe they were just old white guys. Hard to say.
At the end of the hallway they found not a guard, but a secretary--just as tough as any of the armed men outside, though. She sat behind an expensivelooking antique desk that had not a speck of dust on it, and nothing else except a piece of paper centered exactly in the middle, a pen at right angles to it, and a fancy, black multiline telephone. No computer that Claire could spot--no, there it was, hidden away in a rollout credenza to the side.
The room was lushly carpeted, so much so that Claire's feet sank into the depth at least an inch; it was like walking on foam. Solid, dark wood paneling. Paintings and dim lights. The windows were covered with fancy velvet curtains, and there was music playing--classical, of course. Claire couldn't imagine anybody would ever switch the station to rock. Not here.
"I'm Ms. Nance," the woman said, and stood to offer her hand to each of them in turn; she didn't even hesitate with Eve, who intimidated most people. She was a tall, thin, gray woman dressed in a tailored gray suit with a lighter gray blouse under the jacket. Gray hair curled into exact waves. Claire couldn't see her shoes, but she bet they were fashionable, gray, and yet somehow sensible. "I'm the secretary to Dean Wallace. Do you have an appointment?"
Eve said, "I need to see Michael."
"I'm sorry? I don't think I know that person."
Eve's expression froze, and Claire could see the horrible dread in her eyes.
Hannah, seeing it too, said, "Let's cut the crap, Ms. Nance. Where's Michael Glass?"
Ms. Nance's eyes narrowed. They were pale blue, not as pale as Amelie's, but kind of faded, like jeans left in the sun. "Mr. Glass is in conference with the dean," she said. "I'm afraid you'll have to--"
The door at the far end of her office opened, and Michael came out. Claire's heart practically melted with relief. He's okay. Michael's okay.
Except that he closed the door and walked straight past them, a man on a mission.
He walked right past Eve, who stood there flatfooted, mouth open, fear dawning in her expression.
"Michael!" Claire yelped. He didn't even pause. "We have to stop him!"
"Great," Hannah said, and the three of them took off in pursuit.
It helped that Michael wasn't actually running, just moving with a purpose. Claire and Eve edged by him in the hall and blocked his path.
His blue eyes were wideopen, but he just didn't see them. He sensed an obstacle, at least, and paused.
"Michael," Claire said. Dammit, why couldn't I have tranquilizers? Why? "Michael, you can't go out there. It's already morning. You'll die."
"He's not listening," Hannah said. And she was right; he wasn't. He tried to push between them, but Eve put a hand in the center of his chest and held him back.
"Michael? It's me. You know me, don't you? Please?"
He stared at her with utterly blank eyes, and then shoved her out of his way. Hard.
Hannah sent Claire a quick, commanding look. "Get help. Now. I'll try to hold him."
Claire hesitated, but Hannah was without any doubt better equipped to handle a potentially hostile Michael than she was. She turned and ran, past startled desk jockeys and coffeebearing civil servants, and slid to a stop in front of one of the blackuniformed soldiers. "Richard Morrell," she blurted. "I need him. Right now."
The soldier didn't hesitate. He grabbed the radio clipped to his shoulder and said, "Admin to Morrell."
The soldier unclipped the radio and silently offered it to Claire. She took it--it was heavier than the walkietalkies-- and pressed the button to talk. "Richard? It's Claire. We have a big problem. We need to stop Michael and anybody else . . ." How could she say vampire without actually saying it? "Anybody else with a sun allergy from going outside."
"Why the hell would they be--"
"I don't know! They just are!" The image of Officer O'Malley on fire leaped into her mind, and she caught her breath on a sob. "Help us. They're going out in the sun."
"Give the radio back," he ordered. She handed it to the blackuniformed man. "I need you to go with this girl and help her. No questions."
"Yes sir." He clicked off the radio and looked down at Claire. "After you."
She led the way back toward the hallway. As they reached it, there was a crash of glass, and Hannah came flying out to land flat on her back, blinking.
Michael walked over her. Eve was hauling on his arm, trying to hold him back, but he shook her off.
"We can't let him get outside!" Claire said. She tried to grab him, but it was like grabbing a freight train. She'd forgotten how strong he was now.
"Out of the way," the soldier said, and pulled a handgun from a holster at his side.
The bureaucrats scattered, hiding under their desks, dropping their coffee to hug the carpet.
The soldier sighted on Michael's chest, and fired three times in quick succession. Instead of the loud bangs Claire had been expecting, there were soft compressedair coughs.
And three darts feathered Michael's chest, clustered above his heart.
He still took three steps toward the soldier before collapsing in slow motion to his knees, and then onto his face.
"All clear," the soldier said. He took hold of Michael, turned him over, and yanked out the darts. "He'll be under for about an hour, probably no longer than that. Let's get him to the dean's office."
Hannah wiped a trickle of blood from her mouth, coughed, and rolled to her feet. She and Eve helped Claire grab Michael's shoulders and feet, and they carried him down the hallway, past paintings that were going to need some major repair and reframing, past splintered panels and broken glass, into Ms. Nance's office.
Ms. Nance took one look at them and moved smartly to the door marked with a discreet brass plaque that said DEAN WALLACE. She rapped and opened the door for them to carry Michael through.
Dean Wallace was a woman, which was kind of a surprise to Claire. She'd been expecting a pudgy, middleaged man; this Dean Wallace was tall, graceful, thin, and a whole lot younger than Claire would have imagined. She had straight brown hair worn long around her shoulders, and a simple black suit that was almost the negative image of Ms. Nance's, only somehow less formal. It looked . . . lived in.
Dean Wallace's lips parted, but she didn't ask a question. She checked herself, then nodded at the leather couch on the far side of the room, across from her massive desk. "Right, put him there." She had a British accent, too. Definitely not a Texas girl. "What happened?"
"Whatever it is, it's happening all over," Hannah said as they arranged Michael's unconscious body on the sofa. "They're just taking off. It's like they don't even know or care the sun's up. Some kind of homing signal just gets switched on."
Dean Wallace thought for a second, then pressed a button on her desk. "Ms. Nance? I need a bulletin to go out through the emergency communication system. All vampires on campus should be immediately restrained or tranquilized. No exceptions. This is priority one." She frowned as she got the acknowledgment, and looked up at their little group. "Michael seemed very rational, and there was no warning this would happen. I just thought he had somewhere to go. He didn't seem odd, at least at first."
"How many other vampires on campus?" Hannah asked.
"Some professors of course, but they're mostly not here at the moment, since they teach at night. No students, obviously. Apart from the ones Michael and Richard brought in, we have perhaps five in total on the grounds. More were here earlier, but they headed for shelter before sunrise, off campus." Dean Wallace seemed calm, even in the face of all this. "You're Claire Danvers?"
"Yes ma'am," she said, and shook the hand Dean Wallace offered her.
"I had a talk with your Patron recently regarding your progress. Despite your--challenges, you have done excellent course work."
It was stupid to feel pleased about that, but Claire couldn't help it. She felt herself blush, and shook her head. "I don't think that matters very much right now."
"On the contrary, it matters a great deal, I believe."
Eve settled herself down next to the sofa, holding Michael's limp hand. She looked shattered. Hannah leaned against the wall and nodded to the soldier as he exited the office. "So," she said, "want to explain to me how you can have half the U.S. Army walking the perimeter and not have massive student panic?"
"We've told all students and their parents that the university is cooperating in a government emergency drill, and of course that all weapons are nonlethal. Which is quite true, so far as it goes. The issue of keeping students on campus is a bit trickier, but we've managed so far by linking it to the emergency drills. Can't go on for long, though. The local kids are already well informed, and it's only a matter of time before the outoftown students begin to realize that we're having them on when they can't get word out to their friends and relatives. We're filtering all Internet and phone access, of course." Dean Wallace shook her head. "But that's my problem, not yours, and yours is much more pressing. We can't knock out every vampire in town, and we can't keep them knocked out in any case."
"Not enough happy juice in the world," Hannah agreed. "We need to either stop this at its source, or get the heck out of their way."
There was a soft knock on the door, and Ms. Nance stepped in. "Richard Morrell," she announced, and moved aside for him.
Claire stared. Monica's brother looked like about fifty miles of bad road--exhausted, redeyed, pale, running on caffeine and adrenaline. Just like the rest of them, she supposed. As Ms. Nance quietly closed the door behind him, Richard strode forward, staring at Michael's limp body. "Is he out?" His voice sounded rough, too, as if he'd been yelling. A lot.
"Sleeping the sleep of the just," Hannah said. "Or the just drugged, anyway. Claire. Radio."
Oh. She'd forgotten about the backpack still slung over her shoulder. She quickly took out the last radio and handed it over, explaining what it was for. Richard nodded.
"I think this calls for a strategy meeting," he said, and pulled up a chair next to the couch. Hannah and Claire took seats as well, but Eve stayed where she was, by Michael, as if she didn't want to leave him even for a moment.
Dean Wallace sat behind her desk, fingers steepled, watching with interested calm.
"I put in the code, right?" He was already doing it, so Claire just nodded. A signal bleeped to show he was logged on the network. "Richard Morrell, University, checking in."
After a few seconds, a voice answered. "Check, Richard, you're the last station to report. Stand by for a bulletin."
There were a few clicks, and then another voice came over the radio.
This is Oliver. I am broadcasting to all on the network with emergency orders. Restrain every vampire allied to us that you can find, by whatever means necessary. Locked rooms, chains, tranquilizers, cells, use what you have. Until we know how and why this is happening, we must take every precaution during the day. It seems that some of us have resistance to the call, and others have immunity, but this could change at any time. Be on your guard. From this point forward, we will conduct hourly calls, and each location will report status. University station, report.
Richard clicked the TALK button. "Michael Glass and all the other vampires in our group are being restrained. We've got student containment here, but it won't last. We'll have to open the gates no later than tomorrow morning, if we can keep it together until then. Even with the phone and Internet blackout, somebody's going to get word out."
"We're following the plan," Oliver said. "We're taking the cell towers down in ten minutes, until further notice. Phone lines are already cut. The only communication from this point forward will be strategic, using the radios. What else do you need?"
"Whip and a chair? Nothing. We're fine here for now. I don't think anybody will try a daylight assault, not with as many guards as we have here." Richard hesitated, then keyed the mike again. "Oliver, I've been hearing things. I think there are some factions out there forming. Human factions. Could complicate things."
Oliver was silent for a moment, then said, "Yes, I understand. We'll deal with that as it arises."
Oliver moved on to the next station on his list, which was the Glass House. Monica reported in, which was annoying. Claire resisted the urge to grind her teeth. It was a quick summary, at least, and as more Founder Houses reported in, the situation seemed the same: some vampires were responding to the homing signal, and some weren't. At least, not yet.
Richard Morrell was staring thoughtfully into the distance, and finally, when all the reports were finished, he clicked the button again. "Oliver, it's Richard. What happens if you start going zombie on us?"
"I won't," Oliver said.
"If you do. Humor me. Who takes over?"
Oliver obviously didn't want to think about this, and Claire could hear the barely suppressed fury in his voice when he replied. "You do," he said. "I don't care how you organize it. If we have to hand the defense of Morganville over to mere humans, we've already lost. Oliver signing out. Next checkin, one hour from now."
The walkietalkie clicked off.
"That went well," Dean Wallace observed. "He's named you heir apparent to the Apocalypse. Congratulations."
"Yeah, it's one hell of a field promotion." Richard stood up. "Let's find a place for Michael."
"We have some storage areas in the basement--steel doors, no windows. That's where they'll take the others."
"That'll do for now. I want to move him to the jail as soon as we can, centralize the containment."
Claire looked at Eve, and then at Michael's sleeping face, and thought about him alone in a cell--because what else could you call it? Locked away like Myrnin.
Myrnin. She wondered if he'd felt this weird pull, too, and if he had, whether or not they'd been able to stop him from taking off. Probably not, if he'd been determined to go running off. Myrnin was one of those unstoppable forces, and unless he met an immovable object . . .
She sighed and helped carry Michael down the hall, past the stunned bureaucrats, to his temporary holding cell.
Life went on, weirdly enough--human life, anyway. People began to venture out, clean up the streets, retrieve things from burned and trashed houses. The police began to establish order again.
But there were things happening. People gathering in groups on street corners. Talking. Arguing.
Claire didn't like what she saw, and she could tell that Hannah and Eve didn't, either.
Hours passed. They cruised around for a while, and passed bulletins back to Oliver on the groups they saw. The largest one was almost a hundred people, forming up in the park. Some guy Claire didn't know had a loudspeaker.
"Sal Manetti," Hannah said. "Always was a troublemaker. I think he was one of Captain Obvious's guys for a while, but they had a fallingout. Sal wanted a lot more killing and a lot less talking."
That wasn't good. It really wasn't good how many people were out there listening to him.
Eve went back to Common Grounds to report in, and that was just when things started to go wrong.
Hannah was driving Claire back home, after dropping off a trunk full of blood bags from the university storage vaults, when the radio Claire had in her pocket began to chime for attention. She logged in with the code. As soon as she did, a blast of noise tumbled out of the speaker.
She thought she heard something about Oliver, but she wasn't sure. Her shouted questions weren't answered. It was as if someone had pressed the button by accident, in the middle of a fight, and everybody was too busy to answer.
Then the broadcast went dead.
Claire exchanged a look with Hannah. "Better--"
"Go to Common Grounds? Yeah. Copy that."
When they arrived, the first thing Claire saw was the broken glass. The shutters were up, and two front windows had been shattered out, not in; there were sprays of broken pieces all the way to the curb.
It seemed very, very quiet.
"Eve?" Claire blurted, and bailed before Hannah could tell her to stay put. She hit the front door of the coffee shop at a run, but it didn't open, and she banged into it hard enough to bruise.
"Will you wait?" Hannah snapped, and grabbed her arm as she tried to duck in through one of the broken windows. "You're going to get yourself cut. Hang on."
She used the paintball gun she carried to break out some of the hanging sharp edges, and before Claire could dart ahead, she blocked the path and stepped over the low wooden sill. Claire followed. Hannah didn't try to stop her, probably because she knew better.
"Oh man," Hannah said. As Claire climbed in after her, she saw that most of the tables and chairs were overturned or shoved out of place. Broken crockery littered the floor.
And people were down, lying motionless among the wreckage. Hannah went from one to the other, quickly assessing their conditions. There were five down that Claire could see. Two of them made Hannah shake her head in regret; the other three were still alive, though wounded.
There were no vampires in the coffee bar, and there was no sign of Eve.
Claire ducked behind the curtain. More signs of a struggle. Nobody left behind, alive or dead. She sucked in a deep breath and opened up the giant commercial refrigerator.
It was full of blood bags, but no bodies.
"Anything?" Hannah asked at the curtain.
"Nobody here," Claire said. "They left the blood, though."
"Huh. Weird. You'd think they'd need that more than anything. Why attack the place if you're not taking the good stuff?" Hannah stared out into the coffee shop, her expression blank and distant. "Glass is broken out, not in. No sign anybody got in the doors, either front or back. I don't think anybody attacked from the outside, Claire."
With a black, heavy feeling gathering in her stomach, Claire swung the refrigerator door shut. "You think the vampires fought to get out."
"Yeah. Yeah, I do."
"Oliver, Myrnin, all of them. Whatever bat signal was calling them got turned up to eleven, I think."
"Then where's Eve?" Claire asked.
Hannah shook her head. "We don't know anything. It's all guesswork. Let's get some boots on the ground and figure this thing out." She continued to stare outside. "If they went out there, most of them could make it for a while in the sun, but they'd be hurt. Some couldn't make it far at all."
Some, like the policeman Claire had seen burn up in front of her, would already be gone. "You think it's Mr. Bishop?" she asked, in a very small voice.
"I hope so."
Claire blinked. "Why?"
"Because if it's not, that's got to be a whole lot worse."
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com