Hell Has Come To The City Of Angels...
The mission of Containment Team 6 is simple: target and destroy a spreading, malevolent terror that most people and governments simply don't believe exists.
They're real. And they have plans.
Former U.S. Army captain Mark Acheson leads his highly trained team into a new and unexpected battle zone: surburan Los Angeles. Hard contact with the vampires, led by arch-vampire master Osric, results in Acheson's lover being taken and his team left wounded and in disarray. As Acheson and his people struggle to regroup, it becomes apparent that Osric's master plan, which involves blackest occult magic from the ancient bowels of Eastern Europe, is in motion and may be unstoppable. Time is running out, for Los Angeles and the human race.
[Prehistoric man] knew that life was uncertain and sometimes short, that death was inevitable and sometimes abrupt. Every time he set out for the hunt he was aware that some day...the end would come with a slash and an outpouring of blood. It is not difficult to understand why...he should have come to the conclusion not merely that blood was essential to life, but that it was the essence of life itself.
—ANTHROPOLOGIST REAY TANNAHILL
"Ellenshaw says he's coming with us."
Mark Acheson looked up from the map he had spread across the Humvee's hood. Four rocks pinned it to the sheet metal, preventing the dry breeze from carrying it away. Julia McGuiness's eyes were unreadable behind her dark sunglasses.
"Really." Acheson wiped a hand across his forehead. It was damp with sweat, which wasn't surprising, given that they were in the middle of Bumfuck, Arizona. "Did he say why he wants to violate the rules of engagement?"
"He just asked me to let you know he's coming along," Julia said.
Cecil Hayes grunted and shuffled his feet. Rivulets of sweat ran down his bald head, making his black skin glisten in the hot Arizona sunlight. "Man should be in the TOC, havin' himself a stay-cation."
Acheson pushed his sunglasses up on his thin nose, and glanced back at the big GMC RV that served as the team's tactical operations center. The windows were tinted, so he couldn't see anyone inside.
"I'll talk with him," he told Julia. "Sharon, you continue with the brief."
Sharon Thompson nodded. "Roger that."
Acheson walked away from the Containment Team and headed for the RV. His boots kicked up dry dust that was snatched away by a breeze so arid it could have come from a hair dryer. A large German shepherd trotted across the desert, and it bounded toward Acheson when he separated from the group. His tongue lolled from one side of his mouth as he pranced about Acheson, sniffing and huffing. Acheson patted the dog's head.
"Keep cool, Zeke," he said.
Zeke huffed again, then bounded over to a nearby Saguaro cactus and baptized it with a stream of urine. As Acheson stepped into the RV's shadow, the door opened.
"Hello, Mark." Robert Ellenshaw stepped out of the RV. He wore the same dun-colored Army battle dress utilities as Acheson. He closed the door behind him and looked out across the desert, squinting against the harsh light. He slipped on his sunglasses.
"Did Julia give you my message?"
Acheson nodded. "Yeah. You're not coming with us, Robert. It's against the ROE."
Ellenshaw smiled tightly and ran a hand through his salt-and-pepper hair. "I authored the rules of engagement, Mark. You don't need to remind me of them."
"Apparently I do. I lead the containment team in the field, while you stay behind and monitor things from the tactical operations center." Acheson slapped the side of the RV with one hand. "Right here. You don't go any further."
"Things are different this time out."
Acheson gritted his teeth and turned away. He watched Zeke prance around the desert before Nacho Delgado, his trainer, called to him. The German shepherd ran toward Nacho, bounding about like a huge puppy without a care in the world.
Acheson watched Ellenshaw from the corner of his eye. The older man looked out across the desert. Beneath the placid expression on his face, Acheson detected a core of tension.
"Helena can feel him, even with the sun high in the sky. Can you imagine just how powerful he must be, Mark? Even the strength of daylight doesn't seem to weaken him any longer."
"You're not field personnel, Robert."
"I've gone through all the weapons and tactics training."
"That was years ago. I'm not going to risk a breakdown in unit cohesion. You're staying here."
Ellenshaw smiled grimly. "Osric is the big game here, Mark. He's eluded us—me—for years now, taking a human here, a human there, growing his clan. We don't know how many vampires Osric has spawned, but he's had the time to organize a small army. It's imperative that we bag him."
Acheson snorted. "So at the end of the day, it's all about you? Osric's shown you up, so you want revenge?"
"I just want to ensure the job is done right."
"And we can't manage without you? Horseshit. If the tables were turned, would you let me go on the hump with you?"
"That's enough!" Ellenshaw snapped. "I have my reasons. All I ask is that you respect them."
"Don't make me laugh!" Acheson fought to get his temper under control. He shot a glance at the rest of the team, still clustered around one of the Humvees. They all looked back at him, and Acheson knew they'd heard the harsh rebuke in Ellenshaw's voice.
Ellenshaw faced Acheson directly, not intimidated by his greater height or his acrimonious demeanor. When he spoke, his voice was clear and crisp, as if he were lecturing a classroom.
"I'm the head of this division, Mark. In conjunction with Washington, I make the rules." He smiled tightly. "You'll have full tactical control, as always."
Acheson turned away from Ellenshaw and punched the TRANSMIT button on the radio transceiver at his shoulder. "Team, this is Two-Six. Fall back to the TOC for turnout." As the team members radioed their acknowledgments, Acheson put his hands on his hips and gazed out across the desert.
Zeke sidled up to his side. Acheson reached down and scratched him between the ears. The dog stood still as a statue and stared at the horizon.
Acheson checked every team member's weapon to ensure they were locked and loaded. Once satisfied all was in order, he turned to a hard-shell backpack. He opened it carefully and inspected the tapered cylinder within. It was just shy of three feet long and made of a durable gray metal. Two handgrips were bolted to either side, and at the wider end was a single pin. Attached to the pin was a red streamer printed with the innocuous legend, REMOVE TO ARM.
Acheson patted the cylinder almost lovingly. Nothing like a little fuel-air explosive to brighten up your day.
Once he sealed the FAE in its case, Acheson turned to Helena Rubenstein. Her pale blue eyes met his. Whenever he looked at her, Acheson got the impression she was a child trapped in a woman's body. The fact she hailed from the cold metropolitan canyons of New York City was a source of amazement. With her strawberry-blonde hair and unblemished, tanned skin, she looked more like a waif from the San Fernando Valley. Acheson smiled at her and put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. He knew she feared him on some basic level; her ability to see the true nature of a man revealed something to her that frightened her almost as much as those he hunted. More than once he had asked why that was, but she could not explain it. That he was used to dispensing violence as casually as she might order an alfalfa and vinaigrette salad was the closest analogy she had been able to draw.
"What are you feeling, Helena?" he asked. He removed his sunglasses so she could see his eyes, so that she could see he was as human as she was, despite his skills.
"Death is near," she said. Acheson understood her to mean him, and he let go of her shoulder. Helena suddenly took his hand in hers. Her abruptness startled him; Acheson had never seen her move with such instinctive speed. She smiled at him.
"I wasn't talking about you," she explained. "I know you would never hurt me." She looked away as her smile faded. "I can feel him, Mark. I can't feel any others, because his signature is so strong—it's drowning them out, like white noise. All I get is... static."
"How close is he, Helena?"
She shook her head. "I don't know. I'm sorry."
Acheson patted her hand. "Nothing to be sorry about. What you do isn't exactly a precise science—"
"Take care of Robert. I'm pregnant," Helena blurted.
Acheson blinked, totally caught off guard. "Uh—what...?"
"I said I'm pregnant. You've got to take care of Robert."
Acheson was shocked. The thought of Helena having sex was something foreign, almost dirty, like sudden pedophilic urges. "Ellenshaw's the father?"
She nodded, looking away.
"Well, ah... does he know?"
Helena shook her head. "Don't tell him," she said. "That's for me to do. Okay?"
"I understand," Acheson said woodenly. "I'll make sure he stays here—"
"No. This is his calling. This is why I haven't told him. He needs to sanction Osric. To see it done. To take part in it." Helena looked at him. "Don't interfere with this, Mark. This is Robert's... destiny."
Acheson sighed. He rubbed his eyes and slipped on his sunglasses. His head started to pound. "Okay, listen, Helena. You get in the TOC and button it up tight. George and Phil will take care of you. I've given them orders to vamoose at the first sign of trouble. You're not to interfere with them if they try to leave the area, understand? If the TOC comes under attack, they're to get the hell out of here—"
"I know, Mark. I won't interfere." She held his gaze for a long moment, her eyes unblinking in the harsh sunlight. "You'll look after Robert?"
Acheson nodded. "Yes."
She smiled, child-like and trusting. "Then I know he'll be safe. And once Osric's been sanctioned, Humanity will be safe."
"At least from Osric," Acheson muttered, turning away.