2018 Colorado Book Awards finalist for Science Fiction/Fantasy
Alex Menkaure once ruled as pharaoh. Marcus once lived in the time of Caesar. Now, mummy and vampire are partners in a special police unit, fighting to keep the streets safe from both supernatural criminals and anti-vampire vigilantes. But when someone starts poisoning the artificial blood used by vampires, relations between vampires and humans deteriorate to the brink of anarchy. While the city threatens to tear itself apart, Alex and Marcus must form an unnatural alliance with a vigilante gang and a shape-shifter woman in a desperate battle against an ancient conspiracy.
Below Alex, the city was aflame, lit by the fading rays of a rapidly setting sun. The strong wind pulled at his open shirt and carried strange tastes with the impending nightfall.
Time for his preshift scan. He let his ka, his consciousness, his soul, slip free of his flesh and into the spirit realm. His body stood against the dying sunbeams, which graced his dark skin with a tawny glow. His true self soared forth, leaving its fleshy confines on the rooftop. He was Menkaure, the Great Bull of Horus, once more.
The city felt off-kilter, punch-drunk, stretched apart. There was always a melody, the song of the world, lurking in the background, giving Menkaure the sensation that it was a familiar tune, but one he couldn’t quite make out. Tonight, it was riddled with dissonant tones.
He received only the vaguest of impressions. For the third day in a row, he sensed a new power in play. It hummed in the ether, a raw live wire, rolling thunder accompanying an unseen storm—primal and ancient.
It, whatever It was, eluded him like a name sitting on the tip of his tongue.
It was not the Other. Neithikret, Nitokris, Ayesha—whatever she went by these days. Of that much, Menkaure was certain. He knew her particular melody.
This tasted of vice and degeneration, an ill scent on an other-worldly wind. He couldn’t place the source, yet had no doubt that it lurked nearby.
Beneath him, the city mewled and whimpered in myriad voices. His altered state-of-being afforded him senses beyond the mundane five. He saw the soft orange-yellow presences of the souls of the living. Seeded among them, rare as shooting stars in the night sky—yet more common than they should be—he saw the telltale blue-white presences of lost souls who had not yet crossed. These had no remaining flesh to animate, yet haunted the periphery of the mortal world, confused, aimless, and full of raw, unchecked emotions.
Since the Reveal, they multiplied at a steady rate.
Because of the vampires.
Menkaure saw several vampires now, still indoors, their soulless existence appearing as negative presences violating reality. Those he sensed were going about the mundane business of preparation for their night shifts at various jobs. Nearly the entire economy of the city had shifted to a twenty-four-hour schedule, and the vampires, numerous as they had become, had to contribute to society.
Some notes in the evening’s song grew louder.
Someone was coming. Apparently, a few minutes alone was too much to ask for.
Menkaure let his ka snap back into his flesh. He stretched his arms out before him and grasped the railing to steady himself. He felt the momentary drain of the effort; then Re’s dwindling beams restored his strength.
The door to the rooftop crashed open. The wind here, twenty stories up, often caught the door and slammed it into the side of the building. Tonight was no exception.
Before he even turned around, Alex knew it wasn’t one of the vampires. Whoever it was, was entirely too loud. Alex turned around as a young woman struggled with the door.
Latina, athletic, just shy of six feet tall, early to mid-thirties— not much younger than Alex appeared to be. She had her hair in a ponytail and wore casual clothes. Had to be the FNG, Stephanie Garza.
Garza fought to close the door. It probably felt like a hundred pounds. She finally shut it and walked over to where Alex was standing.
“Let me guess, Narcotics, right?”
Alex laughed. “Read your file. You don’t look like what I was expecting.”
“I get that a lot. It’s the height, right?”
“Yeah. You’ve got no problem with the hours, I take it?”
“Yeah. I mean, no. No problem.” The gal couldn’t stop smiling. That would be gone soon enough.
“You’re sure you’re ready to jump down the rabbit hole?”
“I’ve seen my share already, that’s why I transferred. Well, that, and the pay is a lot better.”
Alex buttoned up his shirt and tucked it in his slacks. He readjusted the holster and the detective’s badge clipped to his belt.
Garza laughed nervously. “Captain Roberts wants to talk to you.”
“Any hint as to what’s up?”
“He didn’t tell me.”
Alex walked toward the door, and Garza followed him.
“Regular cops want nothing to do with us weirdos,” Alex said.
“That’s one reason we’re out here in the boonies, renting office space in an empty building instead of having a proper precinct or space down with Metro.” The Miami-Dade Police Department hadn’t been called Metro-Dade in about two decades, but while names changed easily, habits didn’t. He was going to correct himself, but Garza didn’t seem to mind.
Alex opened the door, and it swung in his hand as if there were no wind at all. He let Garza walk past him, and then pulled it shut.
It slammed home with an unintended finality. That was it. Time to start rationing. No more sun for today.
They moved down the short flight of stairs toward the elevator. Alex pushed the call button, and the doors opened. They stepped into a world of synthesized remade music, droning at the edge of consciousness, banal, and stripped of all its original glory.
“Do you have any first-day advice for me?”
Alex pushed the button for their floor.
“You’re paired with Zorzi Cigogna, right? Listen to him and do exactly what he says. Keep your head on straight. Don’t act like a boot. He’ll see and hear things you can’t, and you can pick up things he won’t. This won’t be like Narcotics. Regular cops are growing their balls back and dealing with the youngbloods. We get the hard-cases. Every one of the vampires—”
Garza’s intake of breath interrupted him.
“Old habits,” Alex continued. “Every one of the nocturns in this unit has several hundred years of experience behind them. Marcus, our Ancient, has disarmed some situations just by showing up.”
“An Ancient? Wow! What’s he like?”
Alex gave Garza a sidelong glance. She must not have dealt with any real hard-cases in Narcotics. It took vampires a couple of centuries to work up to their full potential for depravity.
“He’s like an Ancient. Between you and me, he’s kind of a prick. I’ll let you make up your own mind.”
The elevator stopped and the doors opened. The familiar smells greeted Alex like old enemies. The recycled office air. Scorched coffee. That metallic tang of the Hemo-Synth that seemed to catch you in the back of the throat.
“You deal with thropes much over in Narcotics?” Alex entered the break room and took a large metal thermos from the refrigerator.
“I heard about a case or two, but that’s as close as I got.”
“You will here. Hopefully, it won’t be soon. Just let one of those poor bastards go off their meds during a cycle and then we’ve got big problems.” Alex stepped out of the break room and headed for Captain Roberts’s office, Garza still in tow.
“That happen a lot? With the Therians, I mean.”
“Less than you’d expect, but more often than we’d like.”
“Therians.” There was another PC word. Derived from “therianthrope.” It amounted to skin-changers, shape-shifters, call them what you will—cursed bastards who’d lose control about once a month. At least now there were meds to help them deal with it. Granted the word “thrope” didn’t make much sense by itself if you thought about it, but then slang words often didn’t.
Alex continued. “You know only one in every three thropes is actually registered? Folks don’t report attacks, for obvious reasons.”
Captain Roberts called out from his office, interrupting Alex. “Taking your sweet time, Romer?”
“On my way, Captain.” Alex tipped his thermos at Garza. “I’ll talk at you later.” He bit his tongue not to add in “kid.” After all, he was supposed to be only a few years older than she was.
He walked into the captain’s office.
Roberts was a solid cop, who should have collected his pension a couple of years ago. A sense of duty had kept him from retiring after the Reveal. His wife, now his ex, had been losing her fight with breast cancer. When word got out about the vampires, she was one of the first high-profile cases to go over to the other side. That was before Washington passed those idiotic laws and ICE got in the business of trying to control the vampire population. Far too late of course, but then that was the rule if you counted on the government to react to a trend.
Now, instead of a few thousand, there were roughly 1.2 million vampires in the good ol’ U.S. of A. And they needed their own special brand of law enforcement. So when the city was looking for good cops with a solid sense of command and familiarity with the nocturn situation, Roberts had been the logical choice to head up the section.
He sat behind his desk, tie undone, and ran a hand through the few strands of hair still on his scalp. He looked like he’d had the mother of rough days.
Alex sat and made a gesture of opening the thermos. “You mind?”
Alex opened the top, and immediately a powerful smell of chamomile, thyme, and frankincense filled the small room.
“That holistic stuff help much?” Roberts asked.
“Some.” Alex took a swig from the thermos.
“I’ve got to hand it to you, not going for the vamp blood, you know?” Roberts said. “I’m not sure what call I’d make if I was sick. I just don’t know.”
Roberts and a lot of other folks thought Alex had some rare terminal disease. Alex let them go right on thinking that. It kept people from asking too many questions.
“We all have different ways of coping. You shouldn’t judge too harshly,” Alex said.
Roberts glanced at the blank space on the desk where his wife’s picture had once been.
“What’d your partner dig up?”
“Haven’t talked to him yet,” Alex said. “Marcus is checking in with an old source now. We should have a lead soon. I hope.”
“You want some good news or more bad news?” Roberts made little finger-quotes in the air when he said the word “good.”
“Let me guess. Constance got bureau commander?”
The rumor mill had been alive with tales that the Nocturn Affairs Section was going to get bumped up to a proper bureau and that they were going to get a vampire to head it.
Roberts nodded. “Word is Lelith handpicked her. What’s the deal between those two anyway?”
Alex didn’t like Constance Howe. He didn’t trust her and couldn’t be sure she wasn’t one of the bad guys. But Marcus assured him that having her head the Nocturn Affairs Bureau, while Lelith thought she had her in her pocket, was a closet win.
Alex kept his face noncommittal. “They’re both vampires, I guess. Does that mean you’ll be out of here?”
“After a transition period. I filed my papers today.” Roberts didn’t look happy. He stared down at his desk.
“Well, that’s the first bit of good news I’ve heard all day. Good for you. You’ve dealt with enough of this.” Alex smiled for him.
“You know a guy named Trent Summers?”
Alex felt the smile vanish.
“Yeah, he’s a fed with the Behavioral Analysis Unit out of Quantico. I used to work with him back in—well, I used to work with him.”
“He sends his regards,” Roberts said.
“So we’re on to the bad news now. When did you talk to him?”
“He was on a telecon at City Hall. Says he’s coming to town in the next couple of days.”
“That’s not good. Abraham?”
As of that morning, Abraham, a notorious vampire serial-killer, had sent some kind of manifesto to the media. The talking heads had been going on about it all day.
“So the manifesto is real?” Alex asked.
“Looks that way.”
Alex shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “And the murders we thought were copycats?”
“Probably the real deal. That means Abraham is sitting right in our laps.”
“That’s just fantastic. And it’s only Wednesday. How’re they sure?”
“The manifesto The Standard Bearer printed—”
“Someone leaned on ’em and they finally gave up the original. Postmark came from our fine city.”
“Damn. Listen, Captain, if you want me and Marcus to play hosts to the feds and drive ’em around—”
Roberts held up a hand. “That’s not why we’re having this talk.”
“If the feds want this one, they can have it. I’ll even wrap it up with a bow and a gift basket.”
Roberts nodded. “Frankly, they’re better equipped to deal with this sort of thing.”
“I sense a ‘but’ coming.” Alex braced himself for the next piece of news.
“You’d be right. City Hall wants this to go away pronto. They made some calls and someone tossed out your name.”
“Yep. I don’t even want to know what you and Marcus did before, but someone in D.C. was impressed with your handiwork. So folks told me to tell you, regarding this Abraham deal, they’re willing to turn a blind eye and let you and Marcus do what you have to do.”
Alex laughed halfheartedly. There it was. The ever-present “they.” The puppet masters. People the conspiracy nuts would have a field day with if the truth ever came out.
“In this political climate? They don’t even know what they’re asking. Tell them I want full immunity, in writing. For starters.”
Alex knew they’d never agree to any such thing, but this way it wouldn’t look like he was completely unwilling to play ball. He had a decent idea who was making the request. If they were really serious, they wouldn’t have asked. They’d have ordered.
“I’m just the messenger.”
Alex crossed his arms. “They don’t want us dealing with this. Nobody’s ready for the fallout. As soon as the bodies start piling up…”
Why were they asking anyway? If Abraham had started his activities before the Reveal, they would have probably recruited him right into UMBRA. Were the Lightbearers getting so powerful they could pressure the people Alex suspected were behind the request? If that was the case, everyone was pretty much screwed.
“Like it or not, you and Marcus have more experience than almost this entire section combined. As long as I’m still in charge, we’ll be eating this sandwich together, all right? You’re dropping all your other cases. I want you on this blood thing and Abraham exclusively. Hell, for all we know the two are connected.”
Roberts shook his head. “What, you want more?”
Alex considered it. Roberts was right. It wasn’t even true dark yet.
- SunLit Excerpt: “The Entrepreneur’s Weekly Nietzsche” offers philosophical view of business culture
- Suggestions from the staff at Out West Books for your next great read
- SunLit Interview: For Dave Jilk and Brad Feld, philosophy mirrors business
- What the staff at Poor Richard’s Books suggests for your next great read
- SunLit Interview: In the tale of a union trailblazer, Jane Little Botkin found a story that still resonates
- SunLit Excerpt: “The Girl Who Dared to Defy” galvanized Denver’s domestic mutiny
- SunLit Interview: KM Merritt sought humor with heart for her heroes with disabilities
- What the staff at Old Firehouse Books suggests for your next great read
- SunLit Excerpt: In “Magic and Misrule,” an impromptu job fair draws mostly inept hero candidates
- What the staff at BookBar suggests for your next great read