PROLOGUE

No one in the Clan could have suspected this foul defilement of the most precious of Count Noun's icons-by the Count himself!

Franzbolt was sweating madly, and shuddering ever more violently.

"He was so honoured to have won, He worshipped that trophy, he had swum the floods of Hades from one end to the other for it, braved Olympus, a-and trekked the slough for that prize; How could he? How could he sever the idol that had always been his goal?"

A spear-wielding guard stepped into the gothic tower prison cell, demanding the Regent's attention.

"Your Excellence, the Espada-Class Attack Submarine is making an unauthorized departure from the docks, it requires your attention."

Franzbolt sighed, then nodded his pale face.

"I understand, relay the message to pursue with Katana-Class Escort Subs."

This "Pilgrim's Progress" would be far harder than most, thought the defector, glumly.

Too bad you can't scheme your own railroad with mental power. Yep, too bad.

It's too bad you can, if you're stupid enough to sale your very essence to a vampire cult. But such power can be avoided in the land of Mermen, and the Espada was what the heir of the Dracula Clan was going to prove it with.

An hour passed, giving the Count time to think.

He reflected on his flight from that previous life, in which he had betrayed the Clan in a bloody manner.

The escape was simple for him, and not completely his style, with variables that one couldn't eliminate.

But good humour crept back into his mind as Count Isaiah Noun, known in chat-rooms as "IN," thought with dark humour of the poetic justice involved in the tool of surgical destruction he used.

The plan didn't require perfect timing, fixed anyway, so he waited for the guards with the darkest records- sparing the innocents- and cut them down with the tool hidden in the trophy.

The memories were becoming more vivid as the details came to mind.

Isaiah unscrewed the golden robed vampire from the base of the trophy, and slid the shining little cylindrical plasma fire-sabre from its evil housing...

He remembered lighting it.

The blade was trimmed with a demonic red, with a dark orange being the interior colour.

He wasted no time; once he felt the power pulsating through him.

...The guards. They were bruisers in leather helmets and grey jerseys. Their pants were black and tight, perhaps made of nylon and polyester.

...Most of the savageness was forgotten; all he could remember was the morphing fire blade, losing the neatness of a simple isosceles triangle as it "flared up."

...The next few minutes were a blank.

"Awe, that's it."

The Count recalled slicing open the utility-closet, and retrieving the fishing net.

Isaiah did the only thing he could do to avoid security, that is, scale down the tower for a few stories.

...Those moments only left feelings, and ones of panic at that...

"In" popped out of his recollections at that point.

"Too many blank spots, he said sadly, shaking his head.

"But it's over," he perked up.

Looking up from his bunk, he prepared to stake out the bridge.

1

"An estimated 400 persons are only dust, slowly being identified. Sir, so few are still
Considered missing, and thus the list of suspects is dropping as quickly as the missing
List."
-Intercom message from Vampires burg Castle.

Once again, Franzbolt breathed in the air of the Mediterranean, and felt the same warm glow of pride the Greco-Roman Fleet Commanders must have felt two thousand plus years ago.

The de'ja vu feeling of reincarnated glory summoned powers in him that made all of the nightmare of the situation worth it; almost.

Despite the setbacks, Franzbolt was certain that he would be capable of managing the clan until Isaiah Noun's understudy was ready to take the reins, and that would be fine.

And yet, revenge would be necessary.

Franzbolt's vampire blood demanded it.

"Bjorn, report," Count Noun demanded. The cyborg named Bjorn turned from his terminal and eyed the Romanian.

"Sea Sparta helicopters have pinged the towed array. We've cut power, and are drifting below operating depth; they'll never find us now."

Chelsea Noun's diary provides an insight on just what happened in the tower that fateful episode when the Count escaped his chamber:

"Last night In asked me to insert a disk, and upload it into the Clan Network Server. (Insert it into the server.)

Something about a Trojan horse file, or something.

Then, after that, a strange request, pump wine up from the cellar to 'im.

After that, an hour, maybe, I don't know, a fire blazed everything, and the power went out.

I'm scared."

Isaiah debated the situation with Captain Bjorn, theatrically, something Bjorn, in a crazy state, insisted they do. (He said it would be cool for the crew.)

I: "Helicopters and patrol planes may not stay forever, but what about picket submarines and trawlers?"

B: "We may be immobile at the moment, but we can still fight. Can you imagine? What a delight!"

I: "Huh?"

B: "Dunno!"

I: "You don't?"

B: "Oh no!" (Arms raised, theatrical pose.)

Dismissing their moment of nonsense, the Count and the Captain discuss escape plans.

"Er, I think we should adjust the rudder so we can bring the bow up, and attempt a start on the reactor, blow the ballasts, and rise out of this."

The German cyborg placed his hand under his chin, in deep thought, saying,

"Yes, I like it. However, I'd hate to do that immediately, See, I'd like to hide until we're in range of the Katana Class Escort Subs, which should be here in, uh-

A distant explosion rocked the Espada, demanding the Captain's attention.

"Status."

A technician spoke up.

"Sir, Katana Alpha has struck a mine, and is currently surfacing."

Bjorn popped a question at the tech.

"Was it our mine?"

The sonar systems operator confirmed it.

"Yessir."

So the stealth SOSUS-linked mine plugged one the Katana's.

Bjorn summoned a passive sonar window on his personal terminal, then a window for the sonar detectors, analysing both simultaneously.

"Mr. Noun, see that echo? Good. Fix its position while I contact the anterior torpedo tube."

"Aye aye," Noun obeyed.

The Captain contacted the room, saying,

"Armament control, Load a mark twelve torpedo, and fire upon point-" Isaiah speaks out of turn.

"At 6,8,5."

The Espada rocked as the mark twelve torpedo left the tube, but, worse, the launch gave away the position of the sub.

"Helmsman, raise the bow forty five degrees." Hitting a button, Bjorn immediately contacted another section.

"Propulsion, attempt re-ignition, full speed ahead."

'Aye, Sir."

Sensors: "Captain, enemy torpedoes (are) homing in."

Captain Bjorn sat still, with Mr. Noun gripping his shoulder tightly.

"Captain, do something," Noun said, with a nervous edge in his voice.

Bjorn tapped an icon on his monitor, typed MAG, and pressed ENTER.

"Sir, passive sonar detects a wall of high energy noise, above and around us!"

Isaiah remembered the sonar tech's voice, as plain as telepathy.

The Count saw the Captain smile, a common victorious edge in it.

BOOM!

Contained in deep sea, the explosion's acoustic energy rushed through the ship, soon followed by the rushing tsunami.

"Ignition successful, reactor (at) full power!"

Captain: "Full blow, empty th' tanks! Weapons, blast propellant out the posterior tube, pronto!"

Cap' in had opened COM with everyone as the wave collapsed downward, toward the Espada.

As the sub reached operating depth, clearing the dreadful tsunami, the sub exploded upward, so did the field of battle, requiring a change in the Captain's orders.

"Wep' systems, release radar towed array, fire Sam's at targets of opportunity! "

As this was happening, Isaiah had an insight.

"MAG." He had a magnetic link with all the decoys out there," he exclaimed to himself privately.

"I guess we're in good hands."

Both Katana class subs have taken hits that have forced them to surface.

Great.

The Espada is still running... and it had taken the time to blast some sub hunting craft out of the sky!

After all this, Franzbolt could not accept this and go home.

The heir had to be destroyed, despite the resources lost.

"Seal up the straits, we'll tighten up on 'em with the older hunter-killer subs."

"So, Brother, where to next?"

Isaiah smiled in spirit, thinking that little sister Chelsea seemed to think this was a simple car trek.

"Down the Nile. It's only logical, since the Clan would cut off the routes out of the Mediterranean, so we must move out of the sea before the search party combs it all," he answered in an attempted conversational tone.

"So we're going to abandon the sub?"

Isaiah flinched. He hadn't been considering it a lose.

What had her line of thinking been?

He asked as much, and got,

"I was just thinking that the Espada had some value, and that we were going to salvage it somehow."

The great Count eyed the quarters that would usually belong to five commandos, and decided,

"It is entirely up to M.E. what to do with this submersible."

I could jump and avoid the fate- whatever that is- waiting for me at the end of the Nile.

Such thoughts entered the mind of the exiled Count Noun, but no wheels were turning as gears, his thoughts having no teeth.

"How good is my Arabic anyway? And my Coptic? How far along the Nile are we? How extensive is the search?" The variables kept adding up, and escape didn't seem too promising anyway.

Best to ride it out.

Across the bare-steel grey room, Chelsea Noun had her own thoughts.

"How could my brother have engineered an escape with the assistance of M.E., an American company?

What type of deal did he make?

"I had better ask him."

She nimbly slid out of her bunk and walked across the room.

Isaiah Noun was gently nudged out of a slumber he had barely been allowed to fall into.

Tiredly, he pushed himself up without opening his eyes, climbing to lean against a bulkhead. He opened his eyes and switched on a reading-light.

"In, wake up, I need to ask you some pressing questions," he was urged.

Eyes fully adjusted, he recognized his little sister, Chelsea.

Concerned, and not fully hiding it, he asked what was wrong.

"You have got to tell me about your contact with McKee Enterprises," demanded Chelsea.

"What's wrong with you?"

McKee Enterprises is a strange privately owned "Corporation," owned mainly by one man, but sales stock to the public in order to expand.

Sometimes, branches of the superpower are led by executives, but often, by the workers themselves, or the owner himself.

Many spy movies have been based on the owner taking over the world, but he could actually buy it, if he were inclined to do so.

"He seems to have been attempting to recruit me for a long time," ("He" being M.E.)

In whispered, "That's the impression I got form Bjorn, when he secretly contacted me at my Black Sea vacation home a while back." (In the past.)

"So he told you that he would hijack the Espada, and that he would wait at a certain time to pick you up?"

Isaiah grimaced; Chelsea made it sound so easy.

"Yeah, he also gave me a plasma-sabre, so I could improvise if whatever plan I came up with fell apart."

Chelsea leaned toward him. (Isaiah.)

"Did it fall apart?"

"Er, no, at least as much as I remember," he fumbled.

Despite Isaiah's vocal breakdown, Chelsea understood him.

"Do you know McKee's motive at all?"

She was prying from a blank source and she knew it.

"Thanks anyway, I'm glad we had this talk," she said, retreating to her own bunk.

"Awe," she sighed as she slid into her bunk, "I can't trust any of these dreadful conspirators."

2

Dear Journal,

If spotted north of Istanbul, chances of escape would have been nil, but thankfully, the mission went as smooth as granite.

It's important to remember just how fragile you really are; not even a real Man of Steel can take much.

-Bjorn.

The lovely Espada drops an acoustic absorption pod prier to surfacing its conning tower on an early Egyptian morning on June twentieth, 2023.

At noon, the sun will be directly overhead, but right it is gazing at the sub from a spot just over a sand dune.

Bjorn is up and watching it from the CCD-periscope.

He could see a wedge shaped sunspot grow larger and ever larger until the sun stopped shining at all.

"Word," Bjorn stretched out in awe.

The sunspot banked left, ending the illusion.

This black raven performed a difficult landing on top of the choppy Nile, dropping a cargo-bay door for a transfer of select crewmen.

"My Corona."

First Hand Account

-Travis McKee

"Upon landing, I remotely operated the rear cargo bay door.

While stepping out of my recliner, I signalled Gregory, a troodon-cyborg special purposes agent of mine.

Five feet tall, and about the same distance in length, his appearance is reminiscent of a scaly horse-jockey.

Anyway, I signalled him to escort me onto the ramp of my black XB-70 super modified bomber, named My Corona.

It was determined that my appearance was needed to clinch the loyalty of vampire defector Count Isaiah Noun.

My briefing reported that he was a mathematician of the genius level.

More interesting, he was a real vampire, and, a descendent of Count Dracula.

Also, along with him was his younger sister, Chelsea Noun, Gymnast, and notable student of Karate.

It's all very fascinating."

Below, an entry from Chelsea Noun's diary.

As I woke up, I felt tired, yet restless.

I felt a quiver in the air; someone of unheard of importance was coming.

I didn't know if he were good or evil, but I knew it meant the end of our journey, aboard the Espada, and I felt chill of dread for a few moments.

It was nearly five.

I had to stay awake!

I showered.

The water was hot, and that was the way I needed it.

Because of the chill.

It took the steam of a nuclear reactor to bake the chill out of me, it was that bad.

Fear is irrational, at least when it's the fear of the unknown.

I considered bailing again, (Author's note, her line of thought was similar to Isaiah's, when she was not pondering over In's involvement with M.E.) but I had exhausted the fear by the time I stepped out of the shower.

My dress was senseless.

I put on an Egyptian blue sweater with a Koala on it, and a cheerleader skirt.

How was I going to warm up with bare legs?

Highly skilled exile Noun awoke at 5:30, and was highly stressed out.

He could feel things rapidly breaking down in his stomach, and heat coursing through his head and torso.

A stress related fever.

"Man, I gotta unwind," he moaned.

Moving under the showerhead, in the bathroom, he coaxed water out.

"Argh!" He yelled, "How could water be cold in an atomic sub?!"

After enduring freezes wrath, he put on black warm-up pants, one leg in, then the other, just like any mortal, then he pulled on a thick navy blue t-shirt.

"Forgot underwear," he breathed, remedying the problem.

"Now, about that hot water!"'

He rushed to find out about this odd occurrence.

The Count found Chelsea watching a "chick movie" in the cafeteria.

How'd that get in a submarine?

Eyeing the screen, Isaiah asked about it.

"Perhaps Captain Bjorn placed it in here, thinking about my entertainment needs," while saying this, she smiled faintly, glad to see her big brother.

"So what's it called?" Isaiah was avoiding the hot water subject for reasons he didn't understand.

"It's called Upward Lift, and it's about this guy, Matrick, and he builds rockets in his garage, see, and a woman that is temporarily teaching literature at the local high school.

In, was smiling, as if humoured.

"Don't laugh," she warned, "after various bazaar contacts, this substitute teacher named Verona and Matrick begin dating," she paused and put on a serious expression.

": But trouble starts brewing," she said, in a theatrical tone of menace, "for a jealous student plots to kill Matrick and sabotage his projects-"

She gasped, and reached for the remote.

"Oh dear! Go back to where I was before!"

Isaiah laughed at how distressed his sister was about missing a bit of this movie.

"Quiet, Brother, must you always laugh at all of my tragedies!"

The young and hairless Captain Bjorn abruptly entered, and coughed for attention.

Chelsea blushed, and stammered an excuse, but Isaiah displayed a cocky smile for the benefit of Chelsea, causing her cheeks to burn the air around her.

Bjorn waited a moment before reporting.

"Ladies and gentlemen, My Corona has landed and is awaiting your appearance on the deck."

Upon hearing, Isaiah ran to the nearby coat rack, and grabbed a dark Prussian (midnight) blue hooded raincoat for use as a desert cloak.

Meanwhile, Chelsea followed Bjorn to the deck, gravely, it appeared.

She's worried, Isaiah thought. So worried, she forgot about the movie.

He pocketed the film thoughtfully, and caught up with the others into the new environment.

3

The first contact that follows cannot be covered from one point of view, so material must be barrowed from various sources, and rigid lines of distinction must be kept when concerning the sources.

Enjoy.

FIRST HAND ACCOUNT.

ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN GENDER AMOZONIA, A FEMINIST NEWSLETTER.

Narration by Travis McKee: "The Espada was already cabled to My Corona for well over ten minutes before I spotted Bjorn, a counterpart of Gregory, on the deck with Chelsea, Transylvanian exile, and directly behind, Isaiah.

I was instantly impressed with how protective she (Chelsea) was of her sixteen year old brother.

Only fourteen herself, she'd already gained recognition as a superb athlete, but hadn't quite earned my respect until then, placing herself between her brother and me; she was dressed for combat.

Wearing a blue sweater to keep her upper muscles warmed up, and a white cheerleader skirt that allowed maximum mobility, she was hiding her readiness to fight by not wearing a karate gi.

Although wearing her long dark hair loose, I doubt even Gregory could have been able to grab it, should a fight have broken out."

The rest of the McKee story is original material, never before seen.

It could almost be a continuation from the end point of the Gender Amazonia article.

"...I could go on all day about the deception of her sic clothing, since it gave a better impression of her character than Isaiah's, - he was wearing a black cloak and black pants.

It seems that he was building an image for himself, but the gothic stuff didn't work in 2023, and it doesn't work now.

Twenty years ago, maybe, he would have given the impression of being a tough guy...

(Lost material.)

Gregory and I stepped off the ramp as I greeted my guests.

I said "hi," then acknowledged Bjorn's success in delivering them Sic and the Espada back safely.

Intimidated by my stunningly handsome looks, Chelsea turned away shyly, and so, I finally got to shake the Count's hand.

"It's an honour to meet you like this, Sir," he said, smiling with a controlled giddiness.

It was as if I were his hero or something.

His skin was fair and flawless, (light, even for a Caucasian). His hair was as dark as my jet's colour, and he was around five feet and five inches tall. Weight was a little light, judging from his build.

He spud around on his heel, and introduced me to Chelsea, who was smiling as if in the company of close friends.

"Hello Mister McKee, Isaiah and I thank you for the excellent extraction," she said, as a diplomat might.

I noted that her handshake was as firm as Isaiah's, and that the blueness of her eyes matched the colour of the water surrounding Tahiti. The most striking feature about her was a star shaped scar on her left cheek, which is said to have come from a cookie-cutter that a disgruntled rival jabbed her with some time before.

The rest of this interview was lost in a shipwreck... yet another victim of the latest hot spot... some recovered data was picked up however.... TRAVIS WENT ON TO SAY THE FLY-FISHING JACKET HE WAS WEARING WAS A BIRTHDAY PRESENT/JOKE ABOUT THE MAN TURNING FORTY.

4

It shan't be long now, Count Isaiah Noun would be seeing the big cheese soon.

Already, he was impressed.

"Look at that Super Modified XB-70, just look at it! I-it's floating on water! A-and the colour, makes it look like a raven," he fumbled madly at ev'ry one 'round 'im.

Chelsea didn't seem impressed.

"So, there are a lot of float-planes out there," she bit out, annoyed.

Isaiah paid no more attention to her, but he continued to watch "her," that is, the mach-3 transport.

Just over Chelsea's head, two figures stepped out of the black beauty.

One, a large man of about forty, and the other, a small erect lizard in a trench coat and fedora.

"G'day, I'm from Oklahoma, and my name is Travis McKee. I am pleased to see that you have arrived in good health- and high spirits, I hope," he greeted in an authoritarian tone.

Hmm, black and yellow golf shirt, black slacks, and brown fly-fishing vest (open). I understand that his school colours were black and gold, and it appears that he's a fly-fisher; not what I expected from the owner of an international business like his.

It appears he was at least subtly influenced by his surroundings when growing up. Pity. Not the best environment for culturing a captain of industry. Isaiah mussed, with that little data to go on.

Is that an iguana?

Whatever it was, it scared Chelsea all the way to the back of the group, giving Isaiah the chance to meet Travis McKee face-to-face.

"It's an honour to meet you like this, Sir," he said, struggling to control his excitement as he shook the Robber Barron's hand.

"Sir, Noun, is that the right title? This is Gregory De Laboratory, a Troodon, not a mutant of any kind, but a highly skilled dinosaur in my employment.

Gesturing with his hand, he directed the Count's attention to an obviously intelligent yellow-orange beast.

"How dja do," the lizard-man greeted in a nasal-human voice, as he offered In his hand.

Isaiah used a similar greeting, then stepped to the side of the Espada.

Chelsea finally fell into her proper role. Using an adaptable and Simi perpetual smile, she grasped the American's hand and shook it lightly.

"Hello, Mister McKee, Isaiah and I thank you for the excellent extraction."

Indeed. I've got to learn how he hijacked the Espada! Even though it won't do me any good now, the Count was as the Barron waved them into the shuttle.

"C'mon, I gotta go somewhere," he called.

5

"Welcome aboard, Mr. Isaiah, Miss Chelsea, if you've ever ridden Concord, well, you'll still be impressed," Captain Shannon Stone gloated, using her Irish accent as always.

"This baby can cruise at mach-3 at 80,000 feet, or fly supersonic at low altitude, should we chose to waste fuel," she added.

The Noun duo nodded as they strapped themselves into some plush royal grey, or whatever collared seats.

"If you need anything, don't bother me, your Captain Shannon Stone, just call the flight attendant, or stewardess named Meg. She'll help you to the limit of her abilities, all right?"

The captain left the guests in order to operate the craft, leaving them to themselves- and talk behind her back!

"She looked a bit young to be a captain," Chelsea whispered silently to In, a little doubtful of Captain Stone's credentials.

"I'll check the records," the pale count assured, pulling the hidden laptop from his "black" navy -blue raincoat.

He bragged about having a backdoor built into the Scotland Yard terminals- not a bad feat, methinks.

"This 'ill only take a-"

A window appeared in the middle of the screen, saying:

YOUR MODEM DOESN'T SEEM TO BE OPERATIONAL. PERHAPS YOU SHOULD CHECK FOR AN UNSTABLE CONNECTION. OK.

"Wha-?"

Travis McKee appeared, standing in the aisle, beside the freelance hacker.

"Mind not using that?"

Isaiah didn't comprehend just what the old guy was talking about.

"What do you mean?" The athletically shaped forty-year-old pointed at the laptop computer as an answer.

"Well, if it's only a webplinace, don't use it at all, but in any case, I don't want any wireless transmissions coming from this craft, understood?"

Affirmative. We're to stealthily escape the Vampire Clan's extensive search. I know what you're saying.

The crew seemed to have chosen that minute to begin takeoff.

Outside the window, these three passengers watched sand and small pebbles blow along the riverbank.

The engines were kind of silent, but fairly noticeable, so the Oklahoman sat down on the opposite side of the aisle from the Nouns, - could have been ruff takeoff, from a river don't you know?

The Chief of M.E. pulled a palm-top out of his fishing vest, and pressed an icon that looked like a ringing bell.

"Hey, ah... Matrick, I'd like an interface field and a holographic display beamed into the guest cabin, workstation for my eyes only." A thought occurred. "And Mat, have Gouch bring in some drinks."

(Gouch is a small robot.)

Matrick.

That name clicked a memory out of Isaiah's mind.

He reached into a pocket of his hooded raincoat lying on the chair in front of him, and pulled out that film he had placed in there.

Lift-off.

Isaiah had a question for Travis, but as he looked his way, he had another question first.

"You using a transparent hologram?"

Looking up, Travis delivered an answer.

"Uh, yeah, actually, I've got two magic waves, one giving me an image in the visible light spectrum, except it's not visible to anyone but me, get it?"

Seeing that the count had a vague idea of what M.E. owner McKee was talking about, Mr. Travis told Mr. Noun about the laboratory-produced touch-sensitive field, called the interface field.

The Nouns seemed highly interested.

Mr. Travis moved his hand in a strange delirious sign language for a few moments, then he moved his hand in a theatrical gesture, complete with breathtaking golden fairy dust pixels trailing his hand as a comet's tail follows the nucleus.

In the comet tail's wake, a bodysuit-clad image appeared... it was Travis McKee!

This earlier self was smiling, and surrounded by a light orange aura.

His surfing suit (or whatever it was) had an imitation of the McKee coat-of-arms on the face of it; Super dark green base, red diamond trimming, and the royal purple courtyard inside the diamond.

Crowns sat among the purple in imitation of King Arthur's coat-of-arms.

The image of a mid-late thirty-year-old Travis McKee finally spoke.

"How do, I am Travis McKee, founder of McKee Enterprises and co-discoverer of Luminos, a transparent hologram residing within the Van Allen Belt.

Sadly, valuable data has been lost due to time, cosmic rays, and the very magnetic belt that bounced his neural network around. Of course, without the belt, his brain would have disintegrated."

The thirty-five or older child downed some water, then continued.

"Despite deterioration, Luminos proved to be useful in improving our knowledge of the Minoan Civilization, and was useful in developing magical wonders like the transparent hologram that complements the interface field, the discovery of aura photography and concealment of, and data of life beneath the ocean floor."

The hologram went on to speak of geothermal power, novel electronic devices, hanging vineyards, ballooned cavities for transplanted muscle fibre, brief tales of Minoan literature, and details of architecture.

"...Volcanoes powering steam through puppets, who would be manipulated into...Electronic impulses, either a dot or a dash, the votes could be counted, and the results would reach...and so grapes could be produced...with this power soldiers could...as one walked on the treadmill, scrolls of athletic heroes would speak of...the massive volcano-glass tower was also the centre pillar and chapel for..."

The stories of this dead civilization were accompanied by awesome images of related topics.

Time passed, and the Nouns were so preoccupied by the holographic epics and all that Isaiah never thought of decrypting Travis McKee's phantom typing.

The old man smiled cunningly.

"Gotta OK these documents, analyse those reports, make sure the company operates honestly, and above all else, keep it confidential and on time." :-)

6 :-)

Elliot Tudor had never imagined that he would receive a blessing by watching the horizon on the day of the solstice.

But, not unlike the paleontologist studying fossilized dung for profound knowledge, practicing ones observation skills can provide astounding bits of information.

By stabilizing the image, Elliot Tudor clearly identified the fast black plane as an XB-70 Bomber.

"My Corona."

"Master Franzbolt, Inspector Husk has received word that My Corona has just flown over our terrorist camp in Libya. He asks you what Travis McKee would be doing in the Mediterranean on his birthday," a young messenger relayed.

Could this mortal, Travis McKee even know about the vampire cults?

Isaiah Noun such a maniac, the type willing to stop at nothing in order to exterminate all of the Transylvanian order?"

Franzbolt was keenly aware of the perceived dangers of McKee Enterprises.

That company would think of slaughtering all of us as nothing, that is how ruthless they really are, and that boy has betrayed us to them!

The misinformation campaign that had begun far in advance was brewing desperate thoughts in the mind of the Vampire Regent King Franzbolt, leading to an intensely violent action.

People act not on reality, but on their perception of reality.

Those "cavalry" interceptors saw a bomber built in the 1960s, not stopping to think that the Boeing 747s , products of the sixties, were chosen to be the United States President's most common shuttle twenty years later, and was trusted to handle threats to the Chief twenty years later, and something comparable to the superpower's leader is good enough for industry's leader as well.

Daedalus, the yowie from Australia, and pilot of My Corona, was confident that this heavily modified XB-70 Valkyrie was better than Air Force One, and Israeli co-pilot Herman Hill and Irish Captain Shannon Stone doubtlessly agreed.

Nothing can escape determined blood-suckers forever, and the appearance of Fangs brought such thoughts to mind for Travis McKee, who was interrupted from his work rudely by all warning systems known to anything.

Gregory popped to life exclusively on Travis' monitor.

"Sir, hostile Blood Pact Fang Interceptors approaching from stern positions, red alert recommended."

The boss approved.

"Prep the cat'. Ms. Stone and Mr. Bjorn have command aboard Corona."

The orange man looked troubled,

"Sir, please don't use the parasite, those-" the idea clicked in the dino's mind; the nimble craft could avoid the bomber intercepting Fangs after flying in the middle of the parallel formation and Voila!

"As ordered. Sir!"

The one-of-a-kind fighter summoned the free-lance fighter jock into actions that bordered on the heroic.

"Within fang targeting range in twelve," the tanned and chiseled retired IDF pilot reported and re-reported time to engagement while McKee suited up in the cabin.

"Bjorn, give me something to work with," Captain Stone demanded over the PA.

"Um, the fighter is being deployed," the German Cyborg fumbled.

"Oh, then tell Gregory good luck for me," Ms. Stone replied.

Bjorn looked troubled.

"Very well Captain, out."

The Irish Captain spotted an orange lizard behind the German a moment before the screen went blank.

"Bjorn!!" The Irishwoman yelled, "Exactly who is flying the flea?"

But the intercom was shut down, as was the close circuit TV.

She slammed a food tray near her hip, then thumbed her radio to contact the patella-less hacker named Matrick, a kid with his own workstation aboard Corona.

"Matrick, drop what you're doing and assist the boss. He's in the parasite.

"Roger," Matrick clipped.

And so, Matrick leapt into the duty of keeping the boss alive.

The cargo bay had just slid open, and all systems were going.

"Bjorn. Did you see all the surfaces move correctly?"

Combat Pilot Travis McKee heard an affirmative, and thus Pilot and Bjorn powered up the cat' and the jets, and launched the parasite fighter.

Braced and ready, the forty-year-old everything licensed kid tolerated crushing pressure as blue and white leapt at him.

Rush!

He armed the slug canisters and placed the nimble craft into a fierce belly roll.

High density tungsten carbide slugs fired in the direction of the an interceptor every time the cheap CCD'S spotted one, and so some vampire pilots were caught napping.

Countless Fangs were holed in the opening volley, but this old man was far from finished; some chose to continue the battle.

Without processing sensor data, Travis McKee kicked his plane into an immalman (half-loop and roll) and turned on his Guiding Light radar package.

From passive to active.

The middle aged pilot, fangs-out after the lead plane, paying the bewildered trailing victims little mind.

"I'll take you down."

Boss McKee followed the jinking wedge, anticipating the involuntary rhythm. The fretful pilot was running- not a pattern, but a situational mentality that controls someone's state of mind; a primal-like takeover that runs one's tempo and depth in maneuvering.

The Robber Baron didn't have a titanic task of putting this bandit in no escape range before he still had a chance to escape.

The Fang pilot made a violent effort to shake the missile, or turn the tables on McKee in a dime sized turn, but the smokeless missile nailed him with no further incident from that direction.

Medium range radar-guided missiles were closing from way out, and the alert system wouldn't let the American businessman alone.

McKee pressed the fighter stick forward, sending the craft into a non-afterburning mach-one dive.

White towering clouds were approaching; just the way the Robber liked it.

He switched off the guiding light and adopted the CCDs for radar detection.

"Watch, if at all possible for...THE PALE BLACK NINNNJAA, AIRBORNE!"

The Baron hit the clouds, dropped the towed decoy, and the two chaff canisters. At just the right time, he pulled the nimble jet into a climb, then a vertical hover.

Forced to pull his hands of the controls for a moment, he deployed the endothermic cocoon, and fed liquid hydrogen, the cool-juice stored in a small drop-tank, into the engines.

The missiles streaked the by the canopy, and toward the only target left; the towed decoy.

"I've faked my death...again!"

Travis checked the HUD for the target Fangs; North Korean/Transylvanian interceptors.

Seven nonhuman pilots died using active perception.

They didn't know only a phantom menace was destroyed, and the owner of the shadow used their radars as beacons

"Corona, this is RIB, seven Fangs have just been canceled."

Before the cat' could launch the flea, Matrick had brought up air defense monitors, and, more importantly, pressed his one-touch Space Force access button- a massive pad that internet board was.

The Red Baron collected cups and perhaps other Memorabilia... Digital Diablo collects rapid dial buttons of his fallen foes.

Mat found it easier to upload than to type in commands when in a jam like this.

Somehow being forced into a premeditated strike didn't diminish the fun of wrestling the controls of a particle-beam firing satellite.

Mat decided that shooting a floundering Fang would be best, since he was positive he could blast such a lame loser before Colorado overrode his controls.

The wrath of Thor followed his choice. An illuminated God-rod splashed the strato-bird beyond the realm of matter, convincing all disabled Fangs to flee.

"Aye aye eye, my poor heart," Mat exclaimed, "Zeus really kicks!"

"Soy Capitan! Soy Capitan! Soy..."

Captain Stone slammed her mike as she always does when caught between a jam and incompetence.

" Grunt who would (ever) buy that caca about an audio screen-saver?"

Daedalus and "The Golani Guy," (Hill) focused on their jobs, careful not to provoke "Ms. Stalin."

Stone picked up the microphone and called Gregory.

"Listen up, dear Gregarious Rex, I need Mat's workstation on screen, Ayer," She demanded. No Pronto, no chance for praise.

It zipped on.

"Wooey, that boy's got uh Trojan horse invading security in order to withdraw from Space Force. Oh, and what's he pulling over here? Mimicking a Navy sentry and calling up some French Air?"

How overworked he is, but he's still so incredible!

Meanwhile, Daedalus stepped up his evasive.

The Captain was forced to put her head back in the cockpit.

First Hand account by Travis McKee

"Rib one, I'm now Rib two. See any Dassault Mirage Motivators at your six? They're with me, over," the Robber Baron heard his radio crackle.

The Iberian's voice was gruff and masculine, hiding any accent.

This guy could be from anywhere, but Mat has a message on screen saying they're authentic.

"Rib two, I've got two Fangs on my six, could you brush them of for me?"

So he says to me...

"Roger. Intercepting. Flip on box."

I turned on my IFF, (an identification transponder) in active mode, and continue the dive mentioned earlier, but with afterburner now.

Jinking would have slowed me down, only giving the Fangs' medium-range guided death-tubes a chance to reach me.

I was hoping my new wing would get 'em before my tanks went dry. (I had the emergency auxiliary engine running too; this flea would never fly again.)

I was calm, even though a vampire could try to plug me from that range and have a thirty-to-fifty percent chance of success.

(Corona was feeding me data.)

Seconds passed.

A blue, (Rib two?) fired a long-range air-to-air missile, similar to the aim-54 of the twentieth century.

This air missile hammered the second trailing Fang into mulch, leaving the big fish ahead alone among enemies.

I knew he looked back instinctively, so I showed him my last-ditch move a little early.

I forced forward my throttle, kicked out my break, and slanted all my control surfaces for a climb.

Having done that, I fired my two ASRAAMS (advanced short range air-to-air missiles) toward the bewildered Fang once the target was acquired.

Stupid move; I didn't even have a lock on the guy, but they found him, thanks to Matrick slaving them to Corona's guiding light.

"You rule!"

I told the French (I guess) pilot "thanks and so long."

I had somewhere I needed to be!

7

"Welcome back, Boss," Bjorn greeted the returned parasite pilot.

"Likewise. I, ah, think that's proper, right?"

He seemed to be humoring the cyborg-German at his own expense.

What a guy.

The maid named Meg handed the Romantik a phone linked to Mat and Greg.

"Yo-yo, got the Roger Wilco of the Fangs?"

"Da, they getting directional assistance from a shuttle. That's the big dope at the moment, please stand by."

Travis spent a moment thinking about a possible sixties song parody about a crime lab in the sky.

"It shan't be done."

"What?" Meg asked.

"Nothing, just letting my mind drift into insanity. It shan't happen again."

Just then, Count Noun and Chelsea stepped in.

"Boss job out there. Those hombres are nothing to sneeze at," Isaiah congratulated.

Very American of him. Maybe we can relocate him after all.

"Thanks again. We're in your debt," Chelsea inputted.

Travis brushed that aside politely.

"It was nothing- this plane and crew can sweep away a shabby taskforce no problem."

McKee used his own intercom.

"Day, Herman, Shan, lend me your ears," he said theatrically.

"Yes Me Lord," the captain answered in a British sailor imitation.

"Which are we in better shape for, landing the lake, or D-FW?"

"We could land in either the Trinity or Red River if you want to," she said confidently.

"I'll take the lake, thank you," the young old man chose.

"What lake would-"

Travis cut her off with a weird zip-grunt.

"You know what lake I mean. That'll be all," he said, with much restraint in his voice.

Isaiah Noun hoped he'd be allowed more time to mingle among McKee Enterprises personnel; he really felt at home with this mini bunch.

Franzbolt was peeved.

Out of the flea hanger and into the cabin...or holographic rainbow. Mr. Travis McKee walked down the aisle as if he owned the place. Even if it was the guts of a rainbow.

He picked his phone out of his belt, pushed Shannon Stone's button, (on the-pooh! The button on the phone that dials her number) and moved his chin around, or that's what a deaf person would perceive

"Shannon, is that shuttle tailing us?"

She paused a moment to- Travis doesn't know what- then reported, "The Motivators are escorting it into Europe, Sir, things are looking up on all fronts."

Travis ended the transmission and relaxed. He called Matrick's workstation.

Mat's UN tanned Latin face appeared among other holo-projections.

"Mat, have the Motivators defeated the Fangs?" The boss already knew the answer.

"Affirmative. Thirteen to zero after we left," he said, subdued.

'He's probably covering his tracks, or probing the Colorado defenses. Space Force just might nab him one day.'

McKee parted from Mat, and moved back to his chair.

"I think I'll give the patella-less Diablo a real crisis sometime," thought the Robber Baron out loud.

He set to work scheming a plot against his own defenses.

Between 8:00 & 8:30, Space Force HQ, Colorado Springs, CO.

It pained the Space Force Chief to give in to a United Nations Inspector, but he promised his involvement would be off the record, and if you can't trust Inspector Holloman, who can you trust?"

"Nice to be a part of this investigation, Chief Killborn," the disturbingly honest looking young South Africa native greeted.

"Well, nice to have you take a part in today's duties, Holloman," the aged Chief grumbled.

Holloman pivoted to the rows of personal computers and called for his assistant/partner, Johan Schmit.

"The suspect had uploaded a Trojan horse into the counter-hacking terminals, but he had no intension of crashing the systems. Instead, he only loaded the fiber-optics to the max," the virtual dark-colored variant of the white Mr. Holloman reported, walking toward his partner.

"So this guy had no intention of doing harm to your State, Mr. Killborn," the UN detective translated.

Once that had sunk in, Johan continued.

"The intruder only wished to use your space defense satellite against an immediate threat to his or her well being."

The Chief nodded, so Johan went on to his point.

"This means that the intruder knows your system, and could enter rapidly at any time, thus, he has hacked here before, but this is so obvious it should go without saying."

Holloman rebooted a PC, and the previously nullified interface tools were once again online.

"That's not quite a T-horse, but it doesn't self replicate, like a virus," he told the two guys behind him.

"But it was a T-horse, it was just uploading a takeover that could be countered simply by shutting off the PCs," Johan chimed in.

"Giving the hacker time to use the mainframe no matter what we did," the Chief finished.

"Correct."

The Australian Bigfoot encountered no further trouble on the way to Oklahoma. Chelsea watched her movie, and Isaiah played an interactive detective movie.

Travis could develop a solid plan to fight the real-life Matrick with, but he wasn't grumpy.

"Maybe I should get Bjorn and Gregory into this," he considered to himself.

"What are they doing right now?"

"Ha! You didn't expect those landing craft to have howitzers, did you?" Bjorn was taunting Gregory after a high-risk move that was paying off at the moment. He was prepared to sacrifice the cannon if he had too, and he new that Gregory would make him lose them somehow.

"Take better care of your forces, Bjorn," the voice of the boss said.

Bjorn turned around to see Travis McKee walking toward him.

The boss pointed at the board.

"Gregory's recon cavalry is armed and ready to sweep down into your shore batteries."

That's exactly what the cyborg-dinosaur did. He was even successful in capturing the guns before the artillerists could scuttle them.

Travis coughed.

"You guys want to help me on a project later?"

The both moaned, "Yeah," clearly disinterested.

Gregory turned the cannons toward Bjorn's ships, just as expected, but he added some mule carried rockets to the battery fire as well.

Nice little game they conjured up.

Finally, at around nine 0'clock, My Corona prepared to land on the lake.

The sun was still not all that high.

Hairy Daedalus had found a nice deep spot and touched down.

Before touchdown, the shutters were opened on the Corona, so the passengers could look out.

"So what lake do you think this is?" Isaiah asked Chelsea where they were, even though she couldn't have a clue.

"Oh, well, I really don't know," she fumbled, "but I'd guess we're in Oklahoma anyway."

"I've got a better idea, and another better idea," he said cryptically.

He UN strapped, and walked over to the exit door.

"What do you mean, Brother?"

He told her what he meant.

"And my second idea is that we will get out once we reach that marina," he gestured toward (what else?) the marina.

"Now I see what you mean."

8

It turned out that the Count was right once again; but there was an unexpected twist.

He was sure the Lincoln before him was going to pick him up, but it happened that the group was to walk to an open field- where a jump jet waited.

"In love with jets, Mr. McKee?'

The forty-year-old youth turned around while walking.

"Hey, they're the only way to travel!"

A stupid, semi antagonizing answer for a foolish, challenging question.

They're hardly blasting warning shots, but Chelsea was a bit troubled by the sudden hostile air of Count Noun.

Don't insult the man's choice of transport. Do you remember what he saved us from?

Herman and Shannon both frowned for some time- until they reached the jump jet, that is.

It was somewhat like ridding a raft, but the vertical takeoff craft reached the destination very quickly.

That was the whole point, really.

The Nouns didn't see much of the McKee Enterprises compound, sense they buzzed by everything. The house and lawn, however, where they landed, didn't escape them.

Stampeding taser-tag football players were also visible from the cabin.

One team, the one currently on defense, was full of big boys, ages varying from gifted twelve-year-olds, to around twenty five-year-old men.

The other team was full of middle-aged bell shaped dudes wearing Hara-kiri (belly splitting) jeans.

The fatallion placed the ball around their own 40 as the jump-jet shutdown.

Someone stopped the clock at sometime between the landing, and lowering of the ramp.

Both teams, with keen interest, watched the crew exit.

First out were Gregory and Bjorn, then came Herman, Shannon and Daedalus.

Next down were Meg, Isaiah and Chelsea. Finally, Travis stepped down the ramp. (Matrick was still on Corona.)

Everyone was a shield for him, thought the Count of McKee bitterly.

While In's head was frying, Bjorn was ordering a grounds crewman to taxi the jet, and the crewman's fear of the towering yowie, Daedalus, motivated him into complying.

Everyone was surprised to see Travis McKee, who secretly picked up Bjorn and the Nouns while keeping up the front of rabbit hunting with very important clients in far off Australia.

They would be surprised to learn that Monroe Morgan and Stan Gandhi are imaginary people.

"C'mon, Travis, the juniors are killing us," one old boy called, so Travis broke off from the rest of the group.

"Watch him run circles around kids half his age," Herman shouted to the group admiringly, "The boss will make it a game again!"

Gregory concurred

"He can run some routes that'll frighten the secondary!"

The Romanian defectors would see that the forty-year-old did run routes that brought the old guys back into the game.

They also saw that the modern brick home wasn't the only habitable structure on the lawn; a concrete home also existed in a hidden corner of the woods.

Sixteen-year-old Count Isaiah Noun was told that he was actually standing above a massive complex as he was already on the cement patio.

"Yep, hee! hee! They dug t' Chiner an' filled it (the hole) wit' a techno-palace or something!"

I don't believe that. Just imagine the sinkhole that could form, he thought skeptically. There are subtropolises and bunkers, to be sure, but directly under this home?

Time passed as Isaiah learned more Travisian myth.

It was obvious that so much of it was made up.

Would you believe he was a New York congressman's secret project, designed for counter-terrorism? Neither would Count Noun, the vampire-defector who refused control of a vampire clan plotting to become a world power.

With that said, (in dreamland only) the Count went hiking.

Down hill from Isaiah, Bjorn and the gang watch the boss with little interest and talk about Romanian Mafia military strength with much more gusto.

"When I contacted him at his Dacha last month, the count told me that the vamps were buying some Arab League Saladin Main Battle tanks produced above the official quota this year, and built more without license," Bjorn said, even though he was watching and noting In's departure.

"You're not supposed to go on vacation until August though," Meg informed the group, bewildered.

"That's right, but Noun would be the new chief this month, so he moved his Black Sea vacation up to May, so he wouldn't slack off his duties within two months of gaining his new position," Bjorn explained.

"You mentioned the Arab League, so how many connections could the vamps have?'

Herman Hill asked the germen.

"Many, and they don't mind letting people know they exist. Did you know the Noun's dacha was an exact replica of the Gorbechev vacation home?"

"That's going to grab attention," Daedalus commented. Look who's talking.

"What type of reach does this group have?" Hill speaking.

"I tracked an agent all the way to Christies Auction House. He bought Brezenov's Hearst for Isaiah," Gregory answered.

"Morbid son ova gun," Ms. Stone swore.

Herman cracked a smile at Stone, then asked,

"So how does this guy strike you, Bjorn?"

Captain Bjorn pondered this thoughtfully.

"Well, he's a nice guy, I'm sure, but he does have a dark side, like a good vampire." Everyone groaned in disappointment, and Bjorn caught on.

"That's not all. If you must know more, he really doesn't strike me, as you call it, like a modern fellow. He's more like a man of the pre World War genre President Wilson would really like him, and some of his social concepts seem pre Darwin.. In fact, he might be a big Crimean War buff. Who knows?"

Everyone got the picture; the mention of Darwin meant that Isaiah was something of a European traditionalist in a social since.

So, if I want to kill him someday, I could attempt to beat him in a fencing duel, thought the aggressive Irishwoman.

Everyone had their own idea of what Bjorn was saying about the kid, but they all believed there was something noble about his ideals: they'd already sensed it.

Lt. Colonel Thurman Dynamics has just called the Space Force; first human to get through.

Killborn put the call on screen for the African detectives to see.

This guy has actually been a Brevet General on several occasions.

The screen changed from a phone tracing- map to a live transmission of an unnaturally angry looking soldier of above average size and sub-Saharan appearance.

The Detroit native inquired about the shutdown.

Chief Killborn answered.

"We suffered an attack against out network, and all surface COM was cut."

He didn't mention that the mainframe was still running auxiliary functions, nor that a hacker fired a satellite based particle beam.

"As acting CINC of the US Electronics Warfare Corps, I'll be flying over via C-21 in two hours," Dynamics told those concerned.

I guess he thought we didn't know where he's working these days, thought Schmit and Holloman, amused at the naivety of the idea.

"We'll be leaving now, saving you're crisis will be enough," Holloman said with a pinch of salt.

As expected, Killborn's face morphed into a mask of rage as Johan said he'd stay. "To close up things here,"

Whatever that means.

After the American football game ended, the younger team departed to ride jeeps off-road in the mountains.

"When I was their age, I played both ends of the ball, just like (I did) today," Travis said, walking up the slope.

"Great job in the valley, too," Herman and Shannon called.

Travis smiled at that, most likely, already thinking that.

Just like so many guys, the old team reviewed the game in conversation, explaining how they kept the other guy from running over oneself all day, exaggerating ones role in the victory, (they won!) and all stating the importance of Travis McKee stepping in at clutch time.

"We should ask Matrick to do an electronic search for more vampire activity," Travis whispered to Daedalus, passing by.

"Aye aye."

Odd, this Teletype message is unlike anything a human is likely to create. It has got knots and grooves across the entire message; and had Holloman failed to trace it, he'd have been in the dark. However, the message was corrupted!

"Why does this guy have an enveloping shield around the beam?"

Inspector Holloman manipulated a keypad while maintaining control of his United Nations issued Jeep Liberty.

"Can't get a complete fix on it, no further than Texarkana to the southeast," he croaked.

The Doppler direction finder failed to get a complete fix on the tight-beam transmission.

Holloman saw a lightning streak flash across the finder.

"That's a bomb detonation transmitter!"

A ground based electronic counter measure from a nearby location locked onto the Liberty, fried it, and toasted it.

"Elliot Tudor's information has been accurate, and our Fang interceptors indeed engaged Corona over the Atlantic. However, the personal jet hailed the Iberian Authorities, who canceled our force," Franzbolt updated the Vampire Confederation Delegates, who have come to Vienna to attend an emergency hearing called by Romanian Regent Franzbolt.

"Do you wish to outlaw the Nouns, Mister Franzbolt?" The Austrian host wanted everyone to know the intention of those already concerned.

Franzbolt answered, "Yes, but only these two traitors, the rest of the family is no threat to the safety of the Clan."

The elderly Austrian nodded respectfully, there was no hint of foul play in the regent's words, but Host Vampire Zack Hamlet was sure the outlaw order started the conspiracy wheels turning on many heads that afternoon, as the graybeard meditated on the issue during a recess early that evening.

Traitors don't tend to escape before doing anything, except in a totalitarian nation...even Aaron Burr shot Hamilton before that strange Midwest thing occurred.

"I think some of Franzie's dirt escaped into the wind."

"Why have a number for every single media outlet? ME security has the answer."

-CUTTING EDGE SCOOPE, 3erd rate tabloid.

While eating cake, the pager registered to Ray Nedshield beeped while hanging on to Travis McKee.

After stumbling out of his chair, he successfully unclipped it, and read the message.

LOOK UP.

An airship drifted across the cloudless sky, with the message: "Yowie message intercepted. Don't worry, the spy has amnesia. Send Corona up the river."

Half to himself, and half understanding, Travis said "Roger," flatly.

And so, Matrick's radiant sign guided the Nouns relocating taskforce to the end of they're kickoff in a hostile arena.

Epilogue

Travis McKee merrily indulged Isaiah by thrusting a death-rail at him.

"I plan on keeping you in America for awhile," he was saying, having fallen back from the Count's counter-strike, "I was thinking about letting you live in an Astronomy commune for a few weeks, before your interview."

Isaiah's eyebrows rose. I guess this guy doesn't need intelligence on my clan as awfully as I calculated at the outset.

Without even betraying his intention one bit, Travis thrusts with an abbreviated outward slash that the Count found himself parrying. No!

The Baron reversed, slashing Noun's left shoulder with a backhand movement.

"I understand that you're actually competitive in math and hacking, but I'm sure you have solid reason not to reveal THOSE skills too, right?"

IN snorted, attacked like a modern athlete.

But Travis owned him so much...

It's not even worth mentioning.