It was a beautiful night, warm by St. Louis standards for the first week of April. It was rare for the low to be fifty-five degrees, but not unheard of. There weren’t even any clouds to hide the stars that shined brightly against the city’s lights’ glare. The lack of cloud cover should have made it cooler, but it hadn’t. There wasn’t even a breeze to ruffle the mostly bare limbs of the trees. The air did have the smell of impending spring in it, though.
It was so nice, Jason Anderson decided to walk to and from his Wednesday evening engineering class, rather than drive his retro navy blue Shelby Mustang GT, with two white racing stripes running from the spoiler to the front grill.
Jason was twenty-one, a senior at St. Louis University, studying Mechanical Engineering. He was six foot two, still thin for his height at one hundred seventy five pounds, but if he had his shirt off, his six pack abs and muscular arms would show he was solid muscle. Everyone assured him he would bulk up as he got older, but he really didn’t care. His hair was an odd shade of blonde, brown and red that his sister Princess called copper, and it hung nearly to his shoulders. His eyes were slightly almond shaped, although he knew of no Asian ancestry, and were a dark, deep blue that in the right light looked like sapphires. The family joke was his eyes looked more Asian than his slightly older brother Mark’s, who was half Japanese. His cheekbones were high, his chin somewhat cleft, his lips thin. He sometimes wore a perpetual scowl, which kept him from being handsome, but allowed some to call his look ‘rugged’. His skin was of a slightly olive complexion, but he was Italian; that was to be expected.
Walking gave him a chance to think about the call he had gotten an hour before leaving for class from his adopted father, Dr. Matthew Anderson, and he needed silence to do that. Silence was a hard thing to come by in a house with five other people in it. He’d faced a similar problem at home in New York City with his four adopted brothers and adopted sister.
The night had started out well enough. He’d gotten a call from his current girlfriend, Kendra Phillips. She was a manager at Danse Macabre, a vampire-owned dance club just on the edge of the campus. She’d managed to get the next night off, so they could get together. She was a werewolf and between her job, his classes and racing, and the full moon, they usually only managed to get together twice a week.
That call had been followed by the one from the Chief. The Chief, as they all called Anderson, wanted him home as soon as possible. The war wasn’t coming in five years, as they had anticipated. It was now more likely less than two, and the training schedule needed to be accelerated.
Jason hadn’t had time to ask who had miscalculated the time table. He’d been too busy being shocked. He’d said he needed time to think. The Chief had wanted to know what there was to think about. He had made a commitment and now had to own up to it.
And Jason had been only been afraid the Chief had found out about his living arrangement: a frat style house with three other men and two women. His housemates were werewolves, his girlfriend was a werewolf and if the Chief found out, he’d have a cow.
Jason had gotten used to his current life style. The war wasn’t supposed to happen for another five years. He was supposed to have enough time to complete his degree.
The Chief had suggested he transfer to New York University, where his brothers Mark and Tiny and sister Princess attended, but if he had wanted to go there, he wouldn’t have gone to St. Louis. He’d come to value his time away from New York. Maybe too much. He had argued he only had six weeks to go to graduate. Wouldn’t it benefit the team if he had as much knowledge in that area as possible?
He hadn’t been able to concentrate in class and thankfully, hadn’t been called on. Once it was over, he had left the room quickly, declining an invite to go have a late meal with two of his housemates, Tiko Ikita and Angela Nichols. Tiko had been Jason’s roommate his freshman year and they had quickly become friends. Both Tiko and Angela were also Engineering students and were in many of his classes. By mid year, Tiko and Angie were a couple and Jason learned they were werewolves. Angie had practically moved in with them, so the switch for all three to the house had been easy. Jason had been more fascinated by the werewolves than frightened and living with them hadn’t been a problem.
Tiko was a third generation Chinese American who had come to St. Louis from San Francisco to find a better pack and to escape his judgmental parents. He had chosen to be infected with the werewolf virus and they hadn’t even tried to understand. Angie hailed from Miami and claimed some distant Cuban blood, although she didn’t look the least bit Cuban, with her pale skin, medium brown hair cut in a page boy and green eyes. She had been attacked at sixteen and hadn’t been able to stomach staying in Miami any longer.
Jason waved as he left them, pulling his IPOD out of his backpack, positioning the earphone. He turned it on, hearing an old Aerosmith song, ‘Jaded’.
It was dark and almost seemed oppressive with no breeze, even though it was only in the fifties. He repositioned his backpack over his shoulder, wishing it wasn’t so heavy. It hampered his ability to move, but just carrying the books would have been just as bad.
Following the Chief’s call, he’d developed an uneasy feeling, one that he hadn’t been able to shake. He was sure something was wrong. He looked down at the white bracelet on his left wrist for the twentieth time, but the tiny red crystal in the top corner of the pentagon-shaped face plate wasn’t blinking with an alert.
He had also argued how odd it would look if he left only weeks before graduation. He couldn’t reveal the existence of G-Force to his housemates without going into detail about Spectra and its political party, Galactor, and how they planned to take over the Earth. He doubted anyone would believe him without proof and the only proof he currently had was his Birdstyle. Besides, he knew he couldn’t tell them anything. It was all way above Top Secret.
‘Jaded’ ended and ‘Fly Away From Here’ started. Jason snorted.
“Yeah. Like it’s that easy,’ he muttered to himself. The scary part was, in his Birdstyle, he could fly.
He walked, glancing occasionally at his surroundings as he stayed deep in thought. Even thinking about Spectra made his blood boil, almost made him wish the war would start. He had a bone to pick with them, one that was so much a part of his being, sometimes there was nothing else.
As the music ended, a car horn sounded and Jason jumped. He took a deep breath and blew it out, chastising himself. He could think about things after he got home. Right now, he needed to pay attention to his surroundings. He needed to be aware of every sound. A murderer was roaming around the campus.
In the last three weeks, four people had been murdered. All four victims had been young men, but that didn’t mean women were in any less danger. The newspapers were reporting the men had been slashed to death, but rumor had it they had been mutilated into bloody pulps. The papers said it had been done by a werewolf, since RPIT, the Regional Preternatural Investigation Team, was on the case. RPIT was a special police unit based in St. Louis which investigated all crimes dealing with wereanimals or vampires in the Missouri and Illinois area.
A member of the team was Anita Blake, a licensed Vampire Executioner and preternatural expert. When interviewed, she had stated the nature of the murders was classified and just because a werewolf was suspected did not mean it was one. She had to remind everyone human beings were more than capable of such violence, too; people like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. Jason knew, too. He had the scars to prove it.
Jason had seen Blake six months earlier in the vampire owned strip club in the University District called Guilty Pleasures. It was owned by the Master Vampire of the City, whose name was Jean-Claude, who was also the owner of Danse Macabre. Jason had never been there before, as it only had male strippers, and he had to admit he was a bit of a homophobe. They were having a Date Night, when the women could bring in their dates. His housemates had hounded him until he agreed to go and had even provided him a date to make his presence legit. His date had been Kendra Phillips and they had hit it off immediately, getting together ever since when they had the chance.
Guilty Pleasures normally catered to young business women who liked to watch good looking men strip as much as men liked to watch women strip. The fact the men were either incredibly handsome vampires or wereanimals seemed to draw them in even more.
With the mixed crowd, feelings had run high and a fight had broken out between some college letterman who had managed to get in by themselves and one of the vampire bouncers. The bouncer was bigger than Jason’s brother Tiny who was six foot seven and two hundred eighty pounds.
All of his housemates and Kendra had wanted to intervene, saying some of the strippers the letterman had been heckling were members of their pack. Jason had tried to keep them out of it, until the fight had gotten out of hand and it was apparent the vampire bouncer was going to kill one of the students. They had all moved forward as a group, right behind some of the other werewolf and vampire bouncers who were trying to get their comrade to let the letterman go.
Instead of becoming part of a bloodbath, Jason had gotten his first real experience with vampires. Jean-Claude himself had appeared with Anita Blake, whom Tiko told him was the Master’s human servant. They solved the problem in a manner Jason would never have expected. They had managed to rescue the letterman and remove the bouncer with no further bloodshed.
Blake had earned his respect. She was one tough lady.
Jason was arrogant in some ways, but he was not so arrogant nor stupid not realize he was in the target group of the killer. His constant dwelling on everything but his surroundings was a sign of lack of concentration. Maybe the Chief was right…maybe he needed to get back into training full time. Maybe his time in St. Louis was making him soft.
He almost hoped whoever or whatever was committing the murders would take him on. He was in need of a good fight. He sparred regularly with Tiko and one of their other housemates, Mitch Adams. Both had multiple black belt degrees. It kept him in shape, but he missed sparring with the team. His housemates had to be careful because of their incredible strength, so they tended to hold back more than they had to. No holds barred was the way Jason liked it and he didn’t want to let on he was a match for them with his cerebonic implants.
The campus was unusually quiet and few people were out. The murders had everyone edgy and most were opting to take even short trips in their cars. Since they didn’t have his training, Jason had a hard time explaining if someone wanted to kill you, being in your car generally wasn’t going to help you. That was especially true if the killer was a werewolf: the Chief had shown them pictures of what a rampaging werewolf could do to cars and Tiko had confirmed they could bench press a small truck.
Jason was coming up to the park that separated the main campus from the rest of the city. The house was on the other side. He considered which way to go: through the park, which was poorly lit but the shortest route, or down the street, where the lighting was better. He opted for the street. It wasn’t that he wanted to stay in the lights; his night vision was excellent. He just wanted to walk some more.
The Chief had offered to start the transfer process, but Jason had demanded he hold off. He resented the way the Chief thought he could just take over things again. He wasn’t a minor anymore. He didn’t need his adopted father’s permission or approval to do anything. It was one of the reasons he had decided to go to St. Louis University. He had wanted away from New York, out from under the Chief’s prying hands, Mark’s shadow and Don’s egotistical indifference. Not that it was Don’s fault he was a scientific genius with no common sense or Mark’s fault he got the best grades of the rest of them and was therefore the benchmark.
Jason grinned as he remembered high school graduation day. He and Mark were the same age, only a few months apart. He had wanted to paint in bright orange paint on the back of his graduation gown ‘Mark who?’, but Princess had talked him out of it. She had said it would only hurt Mark’s feelings, when who he really wanted to blame was the Chief. Instead, Jason had opted to go barefoot in silent protest. Their classmates had thought it hilarious, but Principal Brown had frowned, whispering to him he was lucky he was graduating or he’d have been spending the first two weeks of the next school year in detention.
The Chief’s call had innerved him so much he’d forgotten to ask for another prescription of his migraine medication. The headaches he had been suffering since childhood had become more frequent and were lasting longer, necessitating his using up the strong pain killer faster. Christa, another housemate who was in her second year of medical school, thought he was stressing himself out trying to juggle school and racing. The headaches were reaching the point if he had one, he couldn’t stand any light. He had to retreat to his bedroom, draw the shades, and hide out under his comforter in blessed darkness until the pounding stopped.
Christa had gone over all the causes of headaches and after one particularly bad one, had suggested he get a CAT scan just to make sure he didn’t have a brain tumor. He’d had to assure her the Chief had already tested him several times since the headaches had started when he was eight and couldn’t find any physical cause for them. He’d prescribed the pain killers, a particular diet and stress relieving relaxation techniques.
Jason’s cell phone rang. He startled, having forgotten he even had it with him. He reached up to turn off the IPOD and pulled the ear plugs down around his neck with one hand while pulling the cell phone out of one of the front pockets of his back pack with the other.
“Yeah,“ he said once he flipped it open.
“When was the last time you talked to the Chief?“ a familiar medium toned voice asked. Jason smirked.
“Why, hi Mark. How are you? I’m doing great, thanks for asking,“ Jason said. He should have known Mark would be calling.
“The Chief just had a long meeting with President Kane and has called a meeting for us, at eleven thirty,“ Mark said, not taking the bait. “When did you talk to him last?“ Jason sighed. The Chief must have told him first and now was going to tell the rest of the team. He wasn’t about to let on he knew something the Commander of G-Force didn’t. As the Commander, all information was supposed to filter down from the Chief to Mark and then to the rest of the team. Why had Anderson told him first?
“A few hours ago,“ he admitted and decided to use diversionary tactics. Mark could do him a favor. “I forgot to ask him to refill my meds. Could you tell him?“ Mark’s call had pulled his attention away from his surroundings and he suddenly sensed he was being followed. He scowled for loosing track. He’d always been extremely sensitive to his surroundings and his training for the team had sharpened those natural senses into a finely tuned weapon. During training sessions, he was always the first to sense something was amiss or feel something threatening. The team jokingly called it his ’sixth sense for danger’.
Before Mark could respond, Jason went on.
“I’ve gotta go. I’ve got a tail,“ he said lowly. “I’ll call you back.“